You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

On July 7, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama issued a ruling in Perfection Bakeries Inc. v. Retail Wholesale & Dep’t Store Int’l Union & Indus. Pension Fund, ordering Perfection Bakery, Inc. (Perfection Bakery) to pay the Retail Wholesale and Department Store International Union and Industry Pension Fund (the Fund) withdrawal liability in the amount of $15.6 million.

The court affirmed the previously issued arbitrator’s decision regarding the amount of withdrawal liability Perfection Bakery owed the Fund for its 2018 complete withdrawal. Perfection Bakery argued that the partial withdrawal liability it had paid as a result of its 2016 partial withdrawal should count towards the 2018 total withdrawal liability to reduce the total liability overhead cost. Perfection Bakery argued that the Fund, by not doing so, had misinterpreted the applicable law governing withdrawal liability.

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Final Changes Announced to Forms 5500 and 5500-SF

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it has finalized, together with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), the third and final round of revisions to the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan and the 5500-SF Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employee Benefit Plan.

These Phase III revisions implement certain elements of a September 2021 regulatory proposal, which included proposed changes to annual reporting requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Some of the changes relate to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enforcement Act (SECURE Act), including items affecting multiple-employer plans (MEPs) and defined contribution group reporting arrangements. As such, the changes mostly impact retirement plans. Phase III revisions are effective for plan years beginning January 1, 2023, with filing beginning in July 2024. The previous Phases I and II adopted changes for plan years 2021 and 2022, respectively.

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Multiemployer Pension Plan Alert: Evergreen Clauses May Trump the Bargaining Parties’ Subsequent Agreement

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently ruled that Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund may continue its lawsuit against Transervice Logistics, Inc. and Zenith Logistics, Inc. seeking allegedly outstanding pension fund contributions. The case examined two consolidated appeals, each involving a nearly identical collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between each employer and a union, and trust agreements between each employer and the plaintiff fund. The court was asked to determine whether the employers were required to maintain contributions to a multiemployer pension plan pursuant to so-called “evergreen clauses” that renewed the CBAs each year unless timely terminated.

Factual Background

The CBAs obligated the employers to make pension fund contributions to plaintiff, making the fund a third-party beneficiary of the agreements. The trust agreements obligated the employers to contribute to the fund for the “entire term of any collective bargaining agreement… (including any extension of a collective bargaining agreement through an evergreen clause…).” The CBAs were set to expire on January 31, 2019 but contained evergreen clauses that renewed the CBAs each year unless terminated with 60 days’ notice.

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PBGC Announces Proposed Rule on Interest Rate Assumptions for Multiemployer Plan Withdrawal Liability

On October 14, 2022, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) proposed a new regulation under ERISA Section 4213(a)(2) setting forth actuarial assumptions that a multiemployer pension plan may use in calculating an employer’s withdrawal liability. A PDF of the proposed rule can be found here.

Background on Withdrawal Liability

Under ERISA § 4213(c), an employer withdrawing from a multiemployer pension plan must pay the plan its proportional share of the plan’s unfunded vested benefits, which is the difference between the present value of the plan’s nonforfeitable vested benefits and the value of the plan’s assets. The plan’s actuary must employ a variety of assumptions to calculate the withdrawing employer’s liability, such as how long employees will work and how long retirees will live (both of which affect the value of the benefits the plan must pay in the future).

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$1.9 Trillion American Rescue Package Includes Major Relief for Single and Multiemployer Pension Plans

The $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package recently signed into law by President Biden includes significant assistance for pension plans. The financial assistance provisions will have a large bearing on shoring up the ongoing multiemployer pension crisis. The pension assistance has not received as much press as have other provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) but it is no less impactful. The stimulus package provides direct financial support for certain underfunded multiemployer pension plans and relief from several minimum funding rules for both multiemployer and single-employer plans.

The pension provisions of ARPA are a modified version of the Butch Lewis Act, a pension rescue bill that has passed in the House but never in the Senate in years past. ARPA should allow over 100 severely underfunded multiemployer pension plans to return to relative financial health; however, ARPA does not provide for any long-term funding reform that would prevent another pension crisis. It also will have little or no effect for contributing employers.
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AAA Amends Withdrawal Liability Arbitration Rules to Obtain PBGC Approval

The American Arbitration Association (AAA) significantly altered its rules for multiemployer pension plan arbitrations to respond to Pension Benefit Guaranty Board (PBGC) concerns and public comments regarding recent fee increases and the selection of arbitrators. Today, the PBGC published a Notice of Approval of AAA’s application of its amended rules. Click here for our alert on the changes, which discusses the welcome relief these amended rules provide employers who wish to challenge withdrawal liability assessments and the impact on arbitrating assessments between multiemployer plans and employers.

In with a Bang and Out with a Whimper: Second Circuit Challenge to Popular Withdrawal Liability Calculation Method Settles

The withdrawal liability case of the year came to an anticlimactic end on Monday, September 16, 2019, as the Second Circuit docket sheet of New York Times Company v. Newspaper and Mail Deliverers’ Publishers’ Pension Fund pinged to life with a stipulation withdrawing the case with prejudice.

The most-watched issue in the case was a challenge to the Segal Blend discount rate assumption used by many multiemployer pension plans to calculate employer withdrawal liability. The discount rate assumption can have a massive effect on an employer’s withdrawal liability as even a small variation can dramatically increase a withdrawal calculation.

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