The Delphi salaried retirees scored another victory last week when the Daily Caller website released emails showing that the Obama Administration and U.S. Treasury Department drove the decision to terminate their pensions. Now a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers is requesting a congressional investigation.
Despite adding this to a string of breakthroughs in their favor, the retirees still have a long, difficult road to travel to get their pensions restored. It will be interesting to see in the next several months if the presidential campaign helps or hinders their cause.
Delphi salaried retirees had their retirement income cut between 30 and 70 percent when the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. took over the pensions during Delphi's bankruptcy. Meanwhile, members of the United Auto Workers saw their pensions restored as General Motors paid the difference between the lower PBGC payments and the contractual amounts. The federal government awarded GM billions of dollars to help it emerge from bankruptcy.
Delphi's salaried retirees claim the hourly workers received preferential treatment so that President Obama would gain favor among the unions. They are asking for their pensions to also be restored.
On Tuesday, the Daily Caller published on its website email exchanges that indicate top officials at the U.S. Treasury Department and Obama's Auto Recovery Task Force were deeply involved in making a ruling on the pensions. The PBGC is supposed to independently rule on pension issues.
In one email, Treasury and the auto task force ''disinvited'' the PBGC to a meeting scheduled to discuss the pensions. Other emails appear to contradict sworn testimony by White House and Treasury officials who maintain that the PBGC made the decision.
Delphi salaried retirees are three years and $7 million into a legal battle with the federal government and their pensions are now a presidential campaign issue. If their pressure continues to mount on the president, it might force the Obama Administration to drop its defense and pave the way for pension restoration.
Certainly every time Obama campaigns in Delphi territory, such as the Mahoning Valley, he should be hounded, even haunted by what appears to be unfair and potentially illegal treatment of the salaried retirees. The PBGC's independence on such matters is written into law.
However, if the retirees fail to keep strong support among key Democrats, such as U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, it could hurt their cause. Ryan did not sign the bipartisan letter Thursday that asks Congressman Darrell Issa and Sen. Joseph Lieberman to request additional documents from Treasury and the PBGC that would shed more light on the decision.
''These retirees, regardless of labor affiliation or not, spent their careers working alongside one another and should not be treated differently in their retirement,'' the group, including U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, whose district includes Columbiana and parts of Mahoning counties, wrote to Issa and Lieberman. ''This decision of the Auto Task Force, Treasury and the PBGC continues to affect roughly 20,000 current and future retirees across the nation.''
If Ryan, whose community would regain about $58 million a year over the next 20 to 30 years if the pensions are restored, doesn't stand up for retirees, it would certainly casts doubt in the minds of people outside the Valley on the validity of their claims. The $58 million figure came from Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies research which determined that the region could lose 1,740 restaurant, retail and other jobs from the salaried retirees' sharply reduced spending. There are 1,056 local salaried retirees who once received or expected pensions worth as much as $3,400 per month.
We like the analogy that Warren Mayor Doug Franklin made in a letter to the editor that appears on the next page. Franklin wrote, ''If a Congressman or Senator was able to secure some new business that generated 1,500 jobs in this Valley, we would throw parties, laud their political prowess, and celebrate a major victory!''
No doubt. Which is why everybody should expect local leaders to wage a fierce battle in proving that the Delphi salaried retirees deserve their pensions restored.