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Federal government voids pension promises

Matt Westerhold • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:26 PM

He had the stature of a working man, with big calloused hands and a lively disposition. We started talking when we were both in the buffet line at a wedding reception, five or more years ago.

"My wife and I just rolled in from Florida," he said. "Wasn't sure we were going to make it in time. But we're home now." Before we were finished in the food line he'd told me he was a retired steelworker and he and his wife had been traveling the country for a year in their motorhome.

We sat back down and began eating and talking. His wife was not with him, he explained, she wasn't feeling well and was scheduled for another round of chemotherapy next month. He spoke of her with affection and a certain sadness he tried hard to hide. 

"That's great that you're able to travel. I've always thought I would do that some day," I said. 

It was great, he said, and he was grateful in life. But this was not how they planned to live out retirement. 

"I worked in that steel mill for 35 years. Don't regret one day," he said. "They cut my pension by $500 a month and took away all the benefits. We pay $1,700 a month for health insurance. This isn't how it was supposed to be."

"Who cut your pension? I asked. 

"The government ... when they took over LTV ..." he replied. "My government."

LTV had gone bankrupt and the Federal Pension Guaranty Corp. had taken over the steelworkers pension fund. When the federal government took over,  the contractual promises of retirement income and health benefits between steelworkers and LTV were all but voided, replaced by just a percentage of what was promised and no health benefits. 

"We have to have the insurance," he said. "I'd die right here if I could make her cancer go away and give her our home back. That's all I want. Just for her, not for me. Just one day back in our home." 

Man tears welled up in my eyes. His eyes were wet like mine. Two men cried without a tear dropping.  

The moment was over.  

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