By Jeanne Starmack
Delphi Packard retirees met to talk about how they can restore their benefits.
CORTLAND — Jan Jacobs retired from Delphi Corp. in 2003.
She had been an executive staff secretary for the corporation’s purchasing director.
As a salaried retiree, she had pension benefits and health care.
She was going through a divorce at the time, she said, but believed she could support herself. She started working part-time at Shepherd of the Valley nursing home in Niles and bought a house.
Now, Jacobs, of Warren, says she doesn’t know if she’ll keep the house. As of Monday, her pension benefits have been cut. She works full time now as a receptionist for the nursing home — “Thank God I’ve got that.”
Sachiko Bennette of Cortland is another salaried retiree. She hasn’t seen her benefits cut yet — retirees who are 62 to 65 years old were the first, and she’s older — nearing 72.
“I don’t know that they’re gonna cut that much,” she said of her impending pension reduction. “I hope they lose my name,” she joked.
“Somehow, I’ll make it,” said Bennette, a former circuit test sequence programmer who also retired in 2003.
In the coming months, salaried retirees are facing between 30 percent and 70 percent cuts in their pensions.
Salaried and hourly retirees met Thursday night at the SCOPE center in Cortland to talk about what they can do to get their benefits restored.
The hourly retirees also had their pensions cut when the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. took over Delphi’s pension plan. The pensions were reduced because the PBGC doesn’t cover early-retirement supplements offered by Delphi. For the hourly retirees though, General Motors agreed to step in and “top up,” or make up the difference, in their pensions. The U.S. Treasury provided GM money in the auto industry bailout to do it, said Bruce Gump of Howland, a leader for the salaried retirees. But the treasury stopped short of allowing the top-ups for the salaried workers.
All the retirees have lost their health-care benefits and life insurance. Established through a lawsuit, a voluntary employee beneficiary association, or VEBA, helps them afford group health insurance by qualifying for a tax credit that pays 80 percent of it, said Gump.
If the credit “goes away,” he said, health care will cost them $2,000 a month. The Delphi Salaried Retirees Association filed a suit in September to restore Delphi retirees’ benefits. The suit says the PBGC didn’t follow the law when it terminated the salaried plans, denying the retirees due process, Gump said.
The suit also alleges a constitutional violation because the government did not treat all groups equally when it gave GM bailout money for hourly, but not salaried, pension top-ups, he said.
The meeting at the SCOPE center included representatives for U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Charlie Wilson and Democratic Party chairmen from Mahoning and Columbiana counties. It was sponsored by the Alliance for Senior Action of Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. The group is an arm of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans.
“We stand for equitable treatment for all groups in the auto worker rescue,” Gump told the crowd of about 60 people at the center.
Melissa Long, ASA co-chairwoman, pointed out that the loss of pension benefits in the Mahoning Valley will exacerbate the poverty rate, already at 30 percent. The economy will suffer as the retirees lose their spending power, she said.
Others erupted in anger over what they perceived as inaction on the part of elected lawmakers to help them.
“Why shouldn’t I start a campaign to vote out all of you?” asked Joe Musick of Warren, a salaried retiree.
Representatives for Wilson and Ryan said the congressmen are working to restore retirees’ benefits every chance they get and would continue to do so.
“These are our friends,” said Don Arbogast of Southington, a retired shop chairman, in defense of the politicians.
“To say to them it doesn’t matter how much you tried to help, the problem hasn’t been fixed, so you’re no good — that’s balderdash.”
Dave Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, said the best thing retirees can do to help themselves is to continue to work together.
He said to put pressure on any Ohio congressman that doesn’t support a bill sponsored by Ryan that establishes a VEBA for all Delphi retirees and provides funding for it.