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Past Event

Airline Bankruptcies and Pensions

Securing Retirement Income in Times of Crisis

12:00 AM - 11:59 PM EDT

Please join the Center for American Progress for a panel discussion:

Airline Bankruptcies and Pensions
Securing Retirement Income in Times of Crisis

In what is quickly becoming a pervasive trend in the airline industry, Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines have followed US Airways and United Airlines into bankruptcy protection, raising again the issue of the pension promises that companies have made to their employees. The growing concern comes with good reason – US Airways and United Airlines have already terminated some or all of their obligations. Beneficiaries who had counted on and worked for these promised benefits can now expect substantially less retirement income than originally anticipated. At the same time, the government’s insurance company for defined benefit pensions, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, has had to absorb billions of dollars in unfunded pension promises, contributing to a total loss of $23 billion in 2004. These new bankruptcies raise crucial questions about the security of airline pensions.

Can airlines maintain their promised obligations to their employees and retirees? What will happen to beneficiaries if pensions are terminated? Can the existing insurance system for defined benefit pensions absorb more terminations? Will taxpayers have to foot part of the bill for underfunded and terminated pensions? What will this mean for the airline industry, airline employees, and for consumers moving forward? A panel of three experts on pension policy will offer insights on the current situation and on the solutions proposed to address the airline pension crisis.

• Panel:  Video
• Q&A:  Video
• Presentation Slides: Flash

Note: All videos provided in QuickTime (MPEG-4) format.

Gary Ford, Managing Principal, Groom Law Group
Robert Roach, Jr., General Vice President for Transportation, International Association of Machinists
Mark J. Warshawsky, Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, U.S. Treasury

Moderated by:
Christian Weller, Senior Economist, Center for American Progress


Gary Ford originally joined Groom Law Group in 1981, after serving as ERISA Counsel to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. In 1987, he left the firm to serve as General Counsel to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Gary decided to return to Groom after his stint at PBGC and now serves as the firm’s Executive Principal. Gary is a leading expert on issues relating to the treatment of employee benefit plans in bankruptcies, and he has represented both debtors and creditors in bankruptcy cases involving substantial benefit liabilities and assets. In addition, he represents a number of the nation’s largest plan sponsors, service providers, multiemployer plans, and fiduciaries in a variety of areas, including litigation, planning, and advice. Gary is included in The Best Lawyers in America directory and was named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the best lawyers in Washington, D.C. He is a Charter Fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel. Legal Times has also named Gary as one of the 12 leading Labor and Employment lawyers in the Washington, D.C. area.

Robert Roach, Jr. started in the IAM as a ramp serviceman for TWA and a member of Local Lodge 1056 in New York. Soon after, he transferred to Local Lodge 1445 in Newark, N.J. He was elected as a shop steward in 1976 and served as Grievance Committee Chairman from 1979 through 1992. Robert held other offices in Local Lodge 1445, including Trustee, Vice President and President. In 1984, he was elected District Lodge 142 Trustee and also served as Coordinator for the Districts’ Human Rights Committee. Robert became a District 142 General Chairman in 1992. In 1994, Robert was appointed Transportation Department Special Representative and a Grand Lodge Representative (GLR) in 1996. From GLR, Robert became General Vice President of the Transportation Department on June 1, 1999. Robert is also member of the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, and the International Transport Workers Federation Executive Board and Management Committees. Robert earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Labor and Management Relations at the Empire State Labor College and is a graduate of the Labor Studies program at the Cornell School of Labor.

Mark J. Warshawsky, Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, is advisor to the Treasury Secretary and the Deputy Secretary on all aspects of economic policy. His office is responsible for reporting on current and prospective macroeconomic developments and assisting in the determination of appropriate economic policies. The Assistant Secretary directly supports the Secretary of the Treasury in his roles as Chairman and Managing Trustee of the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees as well as providing the Secretary with review and analysis of domestic microeconomic issues and developments in the financial markets.

Dr. Christian Weller is a Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress, where he specializes in Social Security and retirement income, macroeconomics, the Federal Reserve, and international finance. Prior to joining American Progress, he was on the research staff at the Economic Policy Institute, where he remains a research associate. Dr. Weller has also worked at the Center for European Integration Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany, in the Department of Public Policy of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., and in universal banking in Germany, Belgium and Poland. His publications appear in publications ranging from the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, the International Review of Applied Economics, the Journal of Development Studies, and the Journal of International Business Studies to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, USA Today, Detroit News, Challenge, and the American Prospect. Dr. Weller is often cited in the press and he has been a frequent guest on news programs on ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News and Bloomberg Television. Dr. Weller holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.