Trump tells DeWine, Turner he may intervene for Delphi salaried retirees

Dayton-area Delphi salaried retirees (from left), Tom Rose, Mary Miller, Marlane Bengry and Tom Green, standing on the foundation of the former Delphi Wisconsin Boulevard plant in Dayton in March 2018. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

President Donald Trump told Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner this week that he “understands” that the pensions of Delphi salaried employees were “unjustly terminated" — and that he is considering intervening in the situation.

It’s the latest chapter in a more-than-decade-long story that affected thousands of Dayton-area Delphi retirees.

According to an account from Turner’s office, on Monday, aboard Air Force One, Turner and DeWine asked Trump to intervene on behalf of Delphi salaried retirees who have argued since 2009 that they were unjustly stripped of pensions for which they had worked their entire careers at auto parts producer Delphi.

ExploreFrom 2018: Delphi salaried retirees are still in the fight

In a release from Turner’s office Thursday, Peter Navarro, assistant to Trump for trade and manufacturing policy, called the issue an “Obama-Biden betrayal.”

“We are looking at every legal option available to remedy this Obama-Biden betrayal. This issue has the president’s attention,'" Navarro said in Turner’s release.

A message seeking comment was sent to a representative of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in Ohio.

A federal judge’s ruling in early 2019 marked what many feared was the end of the road for the retirees in question to restore their full pensions.

Judge Arthur Tarnow, of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Michigan, ruled in March that year that the plaintiffs — the Delphi salaried retirees — offered “no evidence” to support the claim that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.'s (PBGC) termination of the salaried employees' full pension plan violated the law.

“The record establishes that the salaried plan was severely underfunded for guaranteed benefits at the time of termination — approximately 50 percent funded,” Tarnow wrote. “There was no entity willing to sponsor the salaried plan upon Delphi’s liquidation.”

But plaintiffs had argued that that they had a right to data and information on the status of assets in the Delphi pension fund. They argued that the PBGC was never fully forthcoming with that information.

Most recently, a ruling from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals backed Judge Tarnow’s decision that sided with the PBGC in dismissing the DSRA’s lawsuit.

“The DSRA (Delphi Salaried Retirees Association) leadership and members sincerely appreciate and are grateful to President Trump for his consideration to achieve closure of a more than 10-year legal ordeal about the pension plan that covered more than 20,000 salaried retirees of the former Delphi Corp.,” said Den Black, chairman of DSRA.

“These secretaries, engineers, clerical workers, front-line supervisors and others worked hard and played by the rules," Black added. "We have been on a relentless quest for justice for well over a decade. We’ve pursued every conceivable avenue to reverse the 2009 involuntary termination of our pension plan by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, but to no avail so far.”

The background: Then-bankrupt Delphi — once a major Dayton-area employer — surrendered its pension obligations to the federally backed PBGC in 2009, while Delphi was navigating a complex bankruptcy court process.

The PBGC followed a complicated formula to determine how much of a once-private pension to pay. That formula resulted in lower pension payments for Delphi salaried retirees, in some cases dramatically lower.

In the case of one local retiree, Washington Twp. resident Tom Rose: He initially lost about 40 percent of what he expected his full pension to be, but after another PBGC re-calculation, he actually received closer to 30 percent of what he said he earned in decades of work.

“Delphi Salaried Retirees Pensions were needlessly terminated to the PBGC during the auto bailout by Obama/Biden in order to expedite the GM bankruptcy," Rose said in Turner’s statement Thursday. “This has forced significant financial hardship upon us. We were roadkill."

Some 20,000 salaried retiree plaintiffs spent more than a decade and at least $8 million in a federal court legal case pursuing restoration of their full pensions.

One particular sticking point: Salaried retirees long noted that General Motors — which once owned Delphi — found a way to “top off” or supplement pensions for Delphi retirees represented by unions, even though GM wasn’t legally required to do that after GM’s own trip through bankruptcy in 2009.

The salaried retirees supported their unionized counterparts -- but they wanted restoration of their own full pensions.

Turner’s release noted that the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) in its report on the Obama Treasury’s role in the way the pensions were disposed reported criticism of the disparate treatment of Delphi salaried employees.

“According to a Treasury document, it was estimated that Delphi Salaried Retirees would lose approximately $440 million in pension benefits,” reported SIGTARP.

“The president was receptive to our message of the plight of these retirees,” DeWine said in Turner’s release.

Turner declined to speculate Thursday on what action the president may take or how long that action could take.

But he is confident the matter is under review in the Trump administration.

“When the governor and I went to talk with him (Trump) about Delphi, he already knew many aspects of the issue,” Turner said in an interview. “The issue had the attention of the White House.”

Absent legislative action, one possible course of action may be an executive order by the president.

Most of the affected Delphi retirees live in four states — Ohio, Michigan, New York and Indiana.

Rose and his allies in the case have estimated that about 6,000 of those retirees live in Ohio. And they estimated that the biggest contingent of Ohio retirees live in and around Dayton, maybe 2,000 or so.

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, was also on the Air Force One flight.

“It was great to discuss this with the President aboard Air Force One,” Davidson said in a statement from his office. "I’m pleased to see the president’s interest in helping return Delphi retirees' pensions and I appreciate the work Mike Turner and others have done on this.”

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