What if for decades you worked the same job, putting money away for the future, doing everything right, taking responsibility for your retirement, only to see the government step in and take it all away? How would you feel? Unfortunately for thousands of Ohioans who were employed by a company called Delphi, that nightmare scenario came true.
Last week after a request by Congressmen Mike Turner, Dave Joyce, me and others, a special congressional hearing took place in Dayton to hear from Ohioans Tom Rose, Mary Miller and Bruce Gump. Tom, Mary and Bruce are like many Ohioans: they worked hard at their jobs for over 30 years, they put money away for their children’s future, they were paying their mortgages, and they diligently saved for retirement.
In exchange for playing by the rules with hard work and loyalty to their company, these Ohioans and 22,000 of their colleagues were to be paid a certain benefit from their pension during retirement.
Yet in the summer of 2009, as it took GM into bankruptcy, the Obama Administration chose to terminate their pension plans.
This is the sad tale of thousands of Ohio families who depended on Delphi, a company which once had vast operations throughout the Miami Valley and the Mahoning Valley. Delphi once employed over 20,000 workers in the Dayton area. Today, that number has dwindled to just 200 in the region.
Similarly, Delphi once had 16,000 employees in the Mahoning Valley, which today has fallen below 1,000.
The details of what happened are murky because the Obama Administration continues to withhold the information that would shed light on the matter. But what is not murky is that the Delphi retirees’ careful financial planning went out the window when they were suddenly told they would only be getting a fraction of what was promised to them.
About 5,000 Delphi salaried retiree families throughout Ohio, from the Mahoning Valley to Dayton, had their retirement income slashed by this decision, which came on top of the total loss of all promised health care and life insurance.
What is most troubling is that there may have been a potentially illegal political determination behind this decision. At the very same time these salaried Delphi employees had their pensions chopped, some of their hourly colleagues had their pensions “topped up” by GM to the full amount owed them by Delphi. Recall, this was at a time when the federal government controlled GM and the Obama Administration was making these decisions.
LIVING IN POVERTY
Delphi salaried retirees in Ohio are struggling to pay bills they had budgeted for under their full pensions. In too many cases, they are struggling to stave off foreclosure on their homes and to avoid declaring bankruptcy. In fact, many of these once prosperous salaried retirees are now living below the poverty level.
On top of the drastic cuts to their pension and health care benefits, these Delphi retirees have been forced to use their remaining resources to fund a multi-million dollar legal battle in an attempt to get answers from their government, and hopefully regain some of their earned benefits.
And yet down on the same Ohio streets, in the same Ohio communities, many of their hourly colleagues who worked with them are getting the full pensions they were promised.
I was proud to promote an agreement in the Senate that increased the coverage level of the Health Coverage Tax Credit, which allows American workers, including these former Delphi employees, to afford health insurance once the federal government has taken over their pension plans. They had no say in the matter, after all.
Most importantly, I have pushed the Obama Administration to provide answers about this matter. Earlier this year, I got a commitment from the new Treasury secretary to closely look into this issue. I was pleased that this resulted in a high-level meeting between impacted Ohio workers and senior Treasury Department officials in Washington last month, and I will continue to follow the outcomes closely.
Last week’s hearing brought some progress; more must be done. Tom, Mary, Bruce and the hundreds of Delphi retirees who attended the hearing need answers from this administration about what happened and why.
Rob Portman is Ohio’s Republican U.S. senator.