A recent opinion from a Nevada federal district court serves as a good reminder to those litigating withdrawal liability assessments of the rather mundane issue of burden of proof. Namely, that an assessment of withdrawal liability is presumed correct unless the employer proves otherwise.
The case, Nevada Resort Association — International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada Local 720 Pension Trust v. JB Viva Vegas LP, (D. Nev. 2:19-cv-00499), dealt with the so-called “entertainment industry exception” to withdrawal liability for work performed in the entertainment industry. Section 4203(c)(1) of ERISA provides that in the entertainment industry, a complete withdrawal occurs only if an employer ceases to have an obligation to contribute under a plan, but nevertheless performs previously covered work in the jurisdiction of the plan anytime within five years after its obligation to contribute to the fund ceased.
In September of 2016 the Las Vegas producer of the musical “Jersey Boys” shut down its long-running show. In assessing the producer withdrawal liability, the pension fund determined that the entertainment industry exemption did not apply because, although it had once been, the fund was no longer a fund in the entertainment industry due to the fact that many of the contributing employers’ employees performed work in the convention industry, rather than the entertainment industry. The producer challenged this determination in arbitration.
After passing out of committee earlier this summer, two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board – one Republican, one Democrat – were recently confirmed by the full Senate.
Even though both nominees have Board experience, the confirmation votes reflected the ongoing partisan contention that has in recent years surrounded the labor agency, with Republican nominee Marvin Kaplan confirmed by a vote of 52-46 without a single Democrat voting in support, while just seven Republicans crossed over to confirm Lauren McFerran, who was confirmed 53-42. Kaplan is currently serving on the Board, while McFerran was previously confirmed in 2014 and served until last December, when her five-year term expired.
Traditionally, three board seats are held by members of the president’s political party while two are set aside for the opposition party. Thus, last week’s confirmations Continue reading
By: Mark M. Trapp and Aaron R. Gelb
Recently, the Chicago City Council approved for immediate implementation a new ordinance prohibiting employers from taking adverse action against an employee obeying orders related to COVID-19 issued by the Mayor of Chicago, Governor of Illinois or Chicago Department of Public Health. The ordinance also encompasses employees staying at home to minimize transmission or while experiencing symptoms of the virus.
The ordinance applies to “Covered Employees,” who perform at least two hours of work in a two-week period for an employer while physically present in the geographic boundaries of the City of Chicago.
In addition to employees complying with governmental orders, the ordinance prohibits adverse action by an employer against any “covered employee” who, in compliance with the directive of a treating healthcare provider, remains at home while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or obeys an isolation or quarantine order. The ordinance also Continue reading
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the unprecedented response thereto by various layers of government has caused many, if not most businesses to rearrange their hours or operations, lay off employees or even to cease doing business altogether. Given this seemingly unprecedented situation, many unionized employers may wonder what duty they have to bargain over specific changes to their ways of doing business.
General Counsel Peter Robb recently provided some helpful guidance summarizing prior NLRB case law on this timely topic. The first portion of Robb’s memo (GC Memo 20-04) summarizes various Board decisions touching on an employer’s duty to bargain during public emergency situations, such as hurricanes, 9/11 and other emergencies.
By way of background, because an employer’s decision to lay off bargaining unit employees is a mandatory subject of bargaining, an employer is generally obligated to bargain with an incumbent union with respect to both the decision to lay off and the effects of that decision. However, an exception to that rule exists if an employer can demonstrate that economic exigencies compel prompt action. Although the Board has consistently maintained a narrow view of this exception, unforeseen extraordinary events which have a major economic effect may fit within it.
For example, in Port Printing & Specialties, 351 NLRB 1269 (2007), the Board ruled Continue reading
The recent action by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”) to rein in run-away filing fees imposed by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) brings to mind Homer Simpson’s declaration that alcohol was “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” In a like manner, the PBGC can be seen as the cause of, and now (happily) the solution to, the very steep filing fees previously imposed by the AAA on withdrawn employers.
By way of background, for many years, employers assessed withdrawal liability faced a Hobson’s choice: either pay the fees demanded by the AAA to initiate arbitration, or forego any chance to challenge the assessment. Of course, by failing to initiate arbitration, the amounts demanded by the pension fund become, in the words of the statute, “due and owing on the schedule set forth by the plan sponsor.”
This unpleasant situation for employers – pay up, or else – was set in motion by a PBGC regulation that allows pension funds to impose the AAA rules (and the required filing fees) on withdrawn employers. That regulation purports to allow Continue reading
Under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (“MPPAA”), an employer can be liable to a multiemployer pension fund if it partially withdraws from that fund either by reducing its contributions by 70 percent over a three-year period, or where “there is a partial cessation of the employer’s contribution obligation.” 29 U.S.C. § 1385(a).
A “partial cessation” can occur in two different ways. The first is through a so-called “CBA take-out,” where the employer ceases to have an obligation to contribute under one or more, but fewer than all, of its collective bargaining agreements (“CBA”)s. The second is a “facility take-out,” where the employer ceases its obligation to contribute with respect to work performed at one or more, but fewer than all, of its facilities. In either case, the employer must continue to perform the work for which contributions were previously required. See 29 U.S.C. § 1385(b)(2)(A).
In a recent case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed a multiemployer plan’s attempt to broaden the application of the CBA take-out provision. Instead, in Caesar’s Entertainment Corp. v. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 Pension Fund, Case No. 18-2465 (3d Cir. Aug. 1, 2019), the Court Continue reading
In a rare win for employers, the Seventh Circuit recently held that ERISA’s six-year statute of limitations barred a multiemployer pension fund’s claim for withdrawal liability against the withdrawn employer.
The case, Bauwens v. Revcon Tech. Group, Inc., No. 18-3306 (7th Cir. 2019), involved an increasingly common scenario, namely, where a pension fund holds a withdrawn employer in “default” for missing an installment payment of its withdrawal liability and failing to cure for sixty days after notice.
In such an instance, the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendment Act (“MPPAA”) allows the fund to “require immediate payment of the outstanding amount” of the employer’s withdrawal liability. See 29 U.S.C. § 1399(c)(5).
In Bauwens, the company fell into default five separate times over the course of twelve years; but each time entered into a settlement agreement with the fund to resume installment payments in exchange for the fund dropping its collection suit seeking the entire accelerated amount. Finally, on the sixth such default, the fund again brought a collection suit, to which the employer asserted ERISA’s six-year statute of limitations. The court held Continue reading
During a recent conference at New York University, NLRB General Counsel, Peter Robb, hinted at the forthcoming restoration of more than fifty years of precedent allowing employers to cease withholding union dues after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement containing the so-called “dues check-off” provision.
As reported by Law360, Robb referred to the 2015 Obama-era decision overturning that precedent as “misguided,” and stated further: “I think unless there’s clear language that the dues check-off should continue, it shouldn’t.” Prior to that 2015 decision, the Board had, since 1962, consistently held that dues check-off provisions, which implement union security provisions by providing for the automatic deduction of union dues, could be cancelled by employers upon contract expiration. See Bethlehem Steel Co., 136 NLRB 1500 (1962).
In December 2014, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (“MPRA”). The objective of the MPRA was to shore up struggling multiemployer pension plans, many of which are severely underfunded and getting worse. Among other things, the MPRA provided employers an incentive to continue participation in “endangered” or “critical” status plans by mandating that any increases to the employer’s contribution rate after 2014 will not count against the employer for purposes of determining withdrawal liability.
Because the funded status of many of these plans is so low, this provision can mean significant savings for employers who withdraw from plans in critical or endangered status. The rehabilitation plans of typical critical status multiemployer plans have called for contribution rate increases anywhere from 4-8% or more annually so, in the five years since 2014, many employers have seen cumulative rate increases of from 20-25%, or more. But because Continue reading
An important decision issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last month once again illustrates the one-sided nature of many withdrawal liability disputes and will likely have significant ramifications for many employers withdrawing from underfunded pension plans. The decision holds that the plan correctly applied a credit for a prior partial withdrawal against the employer’s subsequent complete withdrawal before calculating the twenty-year limitation on annual payments provided by ERISA.
By way of background, withdrawal liability is imposed upon an employer when it withdraws from a multiemployer pension fund, and a withdrawal may be either partial or complete. If an employer incurs a partial withdrawal and subsequently incurs either another partial or a complete withdrawal, ERISA directs that the employer be given a credit for the first partial withdrawal. ERISA also limits an employer’s obligation to twenty years of payments.
In GCIU-Employer Retirement Fund v. Quad Graphics, Inc., the employer incurred a partial withdrawal followed by a complete. In calculating the subsequent complete withdrawal liability, the plan applied Continue reading