Thursday, May 6, 2010
My Brother's Keeper?
"Employees and retirees of Minneapolis publisher Augsburg Fortress [AF] are suing their employer, alleging in their complaint that it allowed their pension plan to fail, and used its connection to the Lutheran church as a legal shield to avoid paying them all their pensions. ... The plan had only $8.6 million to pay $24.2 million in pension obligations to 500 employees and retirees, said the company, which publishes books for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, including hymnals, the works of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Garrison Keillor's latest book. ... Beth Lewis, [AF's] president [said], 'We did what we thought was most equitable for the largest number of plan participants.' ... But when the law was enacted in the 1970s, churches were exempt unless they opted in. In the 1980s, the IRS definition of 'church plan' widened to include almost any organization affiliated with a religious group. That includes recreational groups, hospitals and publishers like [AF]. ... Church plans don't have to file annual reports with the [IRS] disclosing their pension obligations, assets and investment managers, among other details. ... The publisher had asked the church for help, but 'the church-wide organization advised us that it had no obligations or fiduciary duties' to do so, Ms. Lewis said. ... [AF] is a separately incorporated unit under the ELCA church-wide organization", Ellen Schultz at the WSJ, 22 April 2010, link:
Apparently the ECLA, like Vampire Squid, does "God's work". Sure. Elevating "form over substance" fits well with Uncle Sam's current zeitgeist, see my 16 September 2008 post:
http://skepticaltexascpa.blogspot.com/2008/09/sarbox-scam-2.html. No one should assume his pension is safe, no matter who he works for. Or thinks he works for.