Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Human Toll of United's Pension Default

It ain't pretty. Retirees going back to work, retirement dream houses being sold, people who had depended on their pension forced to move in with their children.
Ellen Saracini lost her husband, United Airlines Capt. Victor J. Saracini, when his Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Now she stands to lose more than half of her widow's pension in a very different kind of crash -- United's default of its $9 billion pension obligations.

The scale of the default, the largest in U.S. history, has received more attention than the toll on the lives of the bankrupt airline's 120,000 employees and pensioners.
What's wrong with this picture?
Last week, United Chief Executive Officer Glenn Tilton testified to the Senate Finance Committee about $4.5 million he is receiving from United to replace benefits he had accrued over a 32-year career at Texaco, his previous employer. Tilton said that the default will not affect the payment, and that he has $1.5 million left to collect. He said this does not represent a double standard because United promised him the money in his contract.

"He is saying, 'United guaranteed that to me,' " said retired pilot John D. Clark of Charlottesville, who flew United planes for 36 years out of Dulles and whose $125,000 annual pension is to be reduced by more than 70 percent. "Why is the promise made to him understandable, and the one made to me can go by the wayside?"

Clark said he is more enraged at the injustice of the pension default than at his own situation. "The company is at fault, the Congress is at fault, the president is at fault, past presidents are at fault. There's plenty of fault to go around, but we live in a time when nobody takes responsibility," he said.