Judge sides with ex-Delphi employees

Orders release of documents sealed by U.S. Treasury

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Treasury Department must disclose some 220 withheld documents to former Delphi Corp. salaried workers who are attempting to regain pensions taken away from them by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Dec. 20 the federal agency failed to supply him with “basic rationale” for the privilege it invoked not to disclose some of the 220 documents involving the PBGC’s decision to terminate the pensions during the buyout of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009.

Sullivan wrote that the Treasury Department “miserably failed” to explain why the documents fell under the “deliberative process” privilege.

Bruce Gump, a former Delphi Packard salaried worker who has been fighting for seven years to secure the pensions of some 1,500 local workers, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision and hopes the release of the documents will either win the case for the workers or spark a negotiated deal.

“We are talking about $100 million being infused into the local economy if this decision goes our way. We have lost on average of $1,100 per month and that goes back seven years,” Gump said.

Gump noted that Sullivan is the same judge who ruled on the deleted email controversy surrounding former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Sullivan wrote: “Treasury has essentially wasted this court’s precious and limited time.”

The judge also revisited its stern warning that if the department’s claims were frivilous, the court would impose “significant sanctions, monetary and otherwise.”

The case stems from the PBGC’s 2009 decision to take over more than $6.2 billion in new liabilities as the trustee of six pension plans covering 70,000 employees and retirees of Delphi, including about 1,500 former workers in the Mahoning Valley.

Workers, who were not represented in the initial decision, alleged PBGC improperly terminated Delphi’s pension plan for its salaried workers via an agreement with Delphi and General Motors Corp. The documents Sullivan ordered to be produced involve government deliberations regarding the 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring of Chrysler and GM.

The workers originally sought disclosure of 866 documents that Treasury withheld by claiming they fell under certain privileges. But then on its own, Treasury revoked the claims on about 75 percent, leaving about 220, which the judge now has released.

The judge gave Treasury until Jan. 10 to release the documents, but Gump said he expects to receive them sometime this week.

“They went to the mat to protect these documents,” Gump said, “so it will be interesting to see what is in them.”

Gump sees his long fight to take back pensions as something noble and worthy for future generations.

“Of course, I am doing it for myself and family,” he said. “The government was set up to protect people and property. In this case, the opposite has happened. Looking down the road some 30 years, we don’t want to set a precedent for the government to take away property from our people.”

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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