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July 10, 2008
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker
United States House of Representatives
235 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0508
Dear Madam Speaker:
I am writing to call your attention to another example why there should be Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protection for the benefits that retirees have earned through years of sacrifice and dedication. Attached is a news release issued by the National Retiree Legislative Network that details the retaliatory threats made by Qwest Communications attorneys in a legal brief filed in Denver Federal Court relating to a lawsuit brought by U S WEST/Qwest retirees. The lawsuit was filed by seven retirees on March 30, 2007 after Qwest reduced the basic life insurance for non-union retirees to $10,000. The Qwest Group Life Insurance Plan had promised that retirees who retired before January 1, 1996 would have a life insurance benefit of $20,000 and those retiring on or after January 1, 1996 would have a life insurance benefit of $30,000.
In a brief filed with Denver U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller in the Kerber v. Qwest Group Life Insurance Plan lawsuit, attorneys representing the company state that if plaintiffs prevail “Qwest would need to consider terminating the Life Plan benefits for Eligible Retirees altogether in an effort to recoup the amounts it would have saved” from placing a $10,000 limit on retirees’ life insurance benefits. Furthermore, the Qwest brief stated: “As a result, by pursuing these claims, the seven named plaintiffs are playing dice with the life insurance benefits of the nearly 50,000 retirees they purport to represent.”
In all of my years of being an advocate for the protection of retirees’ pensions and benefits, this is most blatant attempt that I’ve seen by a corporation to intimidate retirees with the threat of eliminating a benefit because retirees are seeking judicial recourse to what they believe was an unjust action. Intimidating briefs may be somewhat normal, but threats like these reinforce my belief that American executives and their counsels have lost their moral and ethical compasses. It was principled values that guided the great founders of American business and our legislative chambers. Leaders with integrity had the ability to cast aside greed and lobby pressures to use fairness and “do unto others” as guides in striking a balance.
Congress did a great service to America’s retirees by passing the Pension Protection Act of 2006 that made needed improvements to ERISA. On behalf of the NRLN’s more than 2 million retirees, I submit that it is time for Congress to provide ERISA protection for retirement benefits such as healthcare and life insurance that had been promised by employers. It has been too easy for employers to use the obscure “Reservation of Rights” language in their benefits plans to reduce and eliminate benefits that have often resulted in additional cost to taxpayers.
The NRLN would welcome the opportunity to work with your staff to develop legislation that would restore the confidence of millions of retirees that members of Congress have not abandoned them. Marta Bascom, the NRLN’s Washington Executive Director, can be reached at 703-863-9611. We will look forward to hearing from a member of your staff.
President, National Retiree Legislative Network