Friday, October 17, 2008

The mysterious magical world of retirement plans

* Too important not to post.

A Tribune retirement plan investigation (as shared with me by former Sentinel employee, Larry Guest):
The Tribune's Hewitt Retirement Center has admitted that Zell is raiding our pension fund, but gave up that info only after I hounded them for three months and filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept of Labor because Hewitt tried to stonewall my request for information.

The notice via "secure mail" in my Hewitt retirement account reads as follows:
"Currently the pension plan is overfunded. The Severence (sic) plan is being paid out from the pension plan because it is overfunded."
When I first heard rumors in early August that Zell was raiding the pension fund, I contacted Tribune human resources and was shuffled off to Hewitt (which handles pension payments). I wanted to know if the rumors were true and also if the pension fund is insured by PBGC, the federal corporation that guarentees most large corporate pension funds. Each call produced different answers. At first, yes Zell is taking money from the pension fund because it is overfunded. Then, no he's not. No one could tell me for sure if it is insured by PBGC, but they had "been told" it was. I asked for documentation and one Hewitt rep said that was not possible within their policy, but I might call PBGC.

I called PBGC and the rep I reached could not find evidence that any Tribune Company pension was insured by them. They suggested I call the Labor Dept, which I did and was told Tribune/Hewitt was required by law to answer my questions and send me a copy of the Summary Plan Description within 30 days. The Plan would confirm whether the fund is insured through PBGC. The Labor Dept rep advised me to put my inquiry and request for the Summary Plan Description in a certified to Hewitt. I did that on August 7.

By mid-September, I had received only an unsigned form letter acknowledging receipt of my certified letter but "because the information is confidential" the request could not be processed through the mail. For a week, I called almost daily and was given the runaround by reps who would not give their last name and said they couldn't talk to me unless I gave them my Hewitt password. I explained I didn't know I had a Hewitt password and the lady said she would have to assign me a password which I would receive in the mail "within 30 days." (There was no mention of a decoder ring.) After I used strong language, I was told an executive named "Andy" (no last name, of course) was working on sending me the Plan. I finally had the extreme good fortune to speak to Andy No Last Name on one occasion in September and he said the Plan would be sent to me in a few days. Ten days later, 9/16, Stacy No Last Name informed me that Andy No Last Name was on the case and would send me a copy of the Plan within 5 days.

TWENTY-TWO days later, I called and was told Andy was not available. I asked to leave a message with him and the lady rep said she couldn't do that because Hewitt didn't have voice mail. I asked if Hewitt was technologically advanced enough that she would write it on a piece of paper with lipstick or an old bullet and put it on Andy's desk. After a pregnant pause, she said she could. I told her to tell Andy No Last Name if I hadn't heard from him by noon the next day, I would be filing a complaint with the Labor Department.

At noon the next day, Oct 9, I called the Labor Department and was helped by a friendly lady who gave me both her first and last name and asked me to fax a copy of my Aug 7 certified letter, the receipt signature card and any other correspondence or phone notes to her, along with contact numbers to reach Tribune Company and Hewitt Retirement Center.

Funny thing happened the next day, Oct 10. I got a message from Hewitt that the Summary Plan Description was being put in the mail to me, though I haven't received it as of this writing on Oct. 13.

PS -- Because the first rep I reached at the Labor Department said PBGC phone reps were notorious about not knowing who is or isn't insured by them, I called PBGC again and reached an executive named Mike McMahan. He was able to confirm that, indeed, the Tribune pension plan is covered. So if Zell drains all the money from our pension fund, at least there is hope that PBGC will take over and keep us retirees out of the soup lines. If and when I receive this grand and glorious secret Plan from the Hewitt No Last Names, I will pass along any pertinent revelations.

Mr. Larry Guest has been retired from the Orlando Sentinel since July, 2000.

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