Author Archives: ERISANation

About ERISANation

Marc LeBlanc started ERISANation to offer thoughts on employee benefits, politics and other stuff. For over three decade, Marc worked as an employee benefit plan administrator and lawyer. Marc does not always refer to himself in the 3rd person.

Buyer’s Remorse and a Tough Sell

The Hill reports that Senate Democrats are pushing the PBGC to bypass the multiemployer pension provisions enacted as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. [] These Legislators now realize that the provisions which mandate multiemployer pension plans seeking taxpayer funding adopt a 5.5% return assumption and only invest conservatively in investment grade fixed income, unless PBGC permits otherwise.

Most observers conclude that it is unlikely that a plan can earn 5.5% in fixed income. How did the bill end up this way? We don’t know. ERISANation is long out of the fray, but remembers when plan professionals were not listened to in crafting various provisions. Some multiemployer Trustees have long pinned their hopes on a sympathetic Congress and President, and condemned existing relief under the Pension Protection Act of 2006. After PPA, some of us in the multiemployer community pushed for further relief under the rubric Solutions not Bailouts [see] but many in our community in fact longed for a “bailout.” They got one, but it won’t be enough, certainly not for any new participant. So how will Trustees of troubled plans, sell this relief – how will they convince an employer to enter a plan, or urge participants to defer wages for one?

Congressional Republicans blocked Obama-era regulations which would have exempted state and municipal retirement plans, that wish to cover city/state residents who have no retirement coverage, from most ERISA-regulations.  ERISA, as we know, otherwise preempts state laws dealing with retirement plans except for certain exceptions not relevant here.

What happened to the sacred values summarized in sound bites, just to list a very few, like;

  • state rights (not talking about the dog-whistle variety of states rights)
  • states are incubators of innovation and/or the laboratories of democracy
  • states should not be forced to adopt one-size-fits-all blanket approaches
  • local control is the truest (bluest) example of democracy
  • important issues should not be resolved on the whims of elected officials or faceless bureaucrats in Washington, DC (EN’s birthplace!)
  • the 10th Amendment rivals any amendment in importance (see State Republican Leaders declining to cooperate in Prez’s voter fraud investigation)

One of pillars of the Senate, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch explained GOP opposition in floor remarks-

These regulations encourage state and municipal governments to impose conflicting and burdensome mandates on private-sector businesses and to bar private workers’ access to their retirement accounts.   See March 30 on-line edition of The Washington Post.

The Senator sounds GOPish when it comes to land management.

The Federal Government owns most of the land in Utah – making decisions without even consulting state and local officials. This is an outrage and is not what our federated system of government stands for. Over the years, we have had more than our fair share of fights with the Federal Government about how our land should be managed. It’s just common sense that the people who are closest to the land and whose lives depend on being able to use the resources should have a seat at the table when it comes to managing it.

And on health care:

Unfortunately, the finest health care system in the world was severely compromised by the partisan health care law that Congress passed and the President signed in March 2010.  The $2.6 trillion health law’s unprecedented expansion of federal power and one-size-fits-all mandates are a failure.

The retirement gap is huge.  Let those closest to the people try to help.  There is a better than even chance that at least a few of these state and local plans will fail, then Congress can decline to resort to, that most-dreaded of federal remedies, the bailout!

Redistribution: Mission Accomplished

There is much concern over income inequality.   President Obama and Democrats can claim that they achieved a wealth transfer from the “wealthy”[i]  to the poor and the not-wealthy.  The advertisements for (or if you like the “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare”) say the 85% of enrollees get some level of premium subsidy. (See also NYT    The Motley Fool recently reports:

….it’s stressed that most enrolled Americans have access to the Advanced Premium Tax Credit, or APTC. The APTC is a federal subsidy that lowers what consumers pay for their monthly premium. Persons and families making under 400% of the federal poverty level (about $47,520 for an individual in 2017) qualify for the APTC, with about 85% of the 10.4 million paying enrollees currently receiving this subsidy.

          So who is paying for this large percentage? Proponents of ACA (including many unions) argued that health plans were already paying for the uninsured who had to resort to emergency rooms for uncompensated treatment.  Efforts were made to calculate that cost, and other costs, resulting from the uninsured.  The latest open enrollment ad campaign spells out clearly that at least as far as ACA goes, there are haves (who gets subsidies) and have nots (who don’t get subsidies).  EN has heard from teachers, restaurant workers and small business owners, including sole proprietors,  who advise that they do not receive subsidies.

            Fertile ground for Pres. Trump and the haters on Capitol Hill.

[i] Definitions or critieria differ as to whom is wealthy  or who “can afford to pay a little more”.

Motobecane 7 Reinforces Life Lessons

No pension or benefit talk this edition, just a lesson or maxim that benefit professionals and their bosses might take to heart!

About 30 years ago, T. J. LeBlanc Jr, DDS (second of his name) gave me a 1978 Motobecane 7.  One internet commentator Motobecane 7describes this moped as a Cadillac to sit on but Citroen to work on.

Of french extraction, no one has more respect for french engineering and design than I. Further, the Motobecane 7 is also a tribute to France’s policies to  engineer full employment.  Example, cleaning a carburetor can take several hours.

Gurnter Carb, USA model 1977-1978

What does it matter that mounting and adjustment hardware are almost always behind something that has to be removed first. And just one example: the brake light is run by a rube goldbergesque button held in by a plate on the brake handle and when the handle moves the button pops out into a rubber bulb in which three electrodes hopefully connect with a copper tube found on the lower end of the button..

The day my Dad (Lord rest his soul) gave me this bike, he started it, seemed to run fine. Okay Dad, I’ll load it up.   But wait, he must tune it up better. Still okay.  Thanks Dad, I’ll be off.  Then he said, let me give you fresh tank of fuel. This is a two-cycle bad air day moped, you mix oil and gas.  Woe to him who does not follow the correct ratio.  The bike specs are 32:1 gas to oil.  My Dad, made it 12:1.  Thus started twice a year trips to a now defunct but eccentric repair shop in a Fairfax, VA  industrial park.

And so for years, I’d pay $250, the bike would run for 6 months, then die.  For the past 6 years or so, the mighty Moto 7 has sat in my garage with a carburetor problem.  No service shop will touch it –  “parts too old” – (what a thing to say to an aging boomer).

Last August, ERISANation retired from the day-to-day strain of saving the multiemployer benefits system.  After an inspiring talk from my daughter-in-law’s Dad (he fixes everything), I decided to fix the bike.

In several days of internet trolling, I discovered an entire subculture of vintage moped enthusiasts who freely share time and knowledge.   I engaged in extensive correspondence with two or three folks, bought some parts, which it turns out I did not need.  Finally, with trepidation, I removed the carburetor, cleaned it thoroughly, ground the float valve seat with metal polish and a q-tip in a drill (YouTube video).  I put everything back together, and called it a night.

The next morning I put in fresh, correctly-ratioed fuel and tried to start it.  Gas gushed from a small hole in the carb housing.  Having no other idea, I spray air into this leaking/weep hole.  Gas and air spray from another hole which had been obscured by gasket sealant (why use a little, when a lot is stuck to your hands) and was very small.  Cleared that hole.  Bike runs and no gas leak!.  I tighten the front fork. Try and fail to fix the headlight.

HERE I SHOULD HAVE QUIT, but like my Dad just running for the first time in 6 years wasn’t good enough.  The idle speed needed adjusting, BUT, I hadn’t studied up on how to do it.  Ended up disconnecting the throttle  cable, and could not reconnect it. So, again it is not running.   I now have conferred with the moped intelligentsia and will get to it, probably 30 days from now ( and maybe fix the brake light switch too).

What compels us(me anyway) to ignore hallowed maxims and stoke frustrations.  “Perfect is the enemy of  good.”  And to me “better is the enemy of good.”  There’s a balance here, capsulized in “quit while you’re ahead.”

Note that for many years, the Moto 7 gathered dust because of my ignorance and fear of failure.  In most endeavors, failure or disappointing results are inevitable.   I observe plans that stick with the status quo because no solution will be perfect ( or please the whole board).  But try something .  It might be a start, or good enough for a start, something which we can make better.


So Little Help for Families Who Care, at least a little

Lately, I have been asked to assist an elderly relative and another disabled relative to address issues of assets levels and Medical Assistance, aka, Medicaid.  I am told read this state’s regulations, they are “the rules of the game.”  If only the game analogy provided a referee who could make a definitive call or a replay booth.  It would be nice if a recipient could get a do-over, like in football – replay first down.

The choices these weakest members of society face are tantamount to life and death, or at least life, and crappier life.  Make a mistake on the resource test – out the door of the  long term care facility you go, or you have no medical care, you’re done, cause you got a few grand in a windfall.

Oh sure, there are “strategies” but so few styled as safe harbors.  When the stakes are so, these folks are often paralyzed, justifiably afraid of a misstep…

Electing Bernie May Not Keep Our Pension Promises

Heart-rending accounts of the impact of Central States proposed cutbacks abound. Teamsters and supporters will march on Washington, Friday, April 14, 2016 (a few days before income taxes are due – later this year on account of Emancipation Day).

Many put their hopes in Senator Sanders’ Keep Our Pension Promises Act or KOPPA.

If enacted as drafted (ha ha ha), KOPPA would set up a $29 billion fund within PBGC to help cover underfunded pensions without resorting to the harsh medicine of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. [full disclosure:  ERISANation’s principal worked on MPRA.  It is harsh. It was and is necessary].

See also the Miners Protection Act which seeks to help participants in the United Mineworkers Plans.

KOPPA reminds us of the 2009 Pomeroy-Tiberi bill, also known as the Pomeroy-Casey bill.

First proposed in 2009  by a Democrat and Republican as principle sponsors, it would have fully funded the PBGC which might have positioned that agency to provide a greater safety net for Central States pensioners.  Remember then the Democrats held the Presidency, and the House, and the Senate.  Pomeroy-Tiberi did not merit a single hearing.  Some of us tried including my old Chairman, MIchael J. Sullivan who spoke at a press conference, wrote a Politico piece, and other wise tried to get an audience.

Pomeroy-Tiberi-Casey quickly lost steam after characterized as another bailout bill. Worse still it was wrongly characterized as a “union bailout.”  In fact, given that a contributing employer’s liability to multiemployer plans extend beyond just making contributions, it should have been called an employer bailout bill.

The nation had spent billions on banks, and insurers, and manufacturers. Adding a few billion more to our deficit for modest workers pensions was a bridge too far.  ERISANation thought naively that the power of shame might be employed.  “Darn right we want a bailout, like you bailed out shareholders and bondholders and the powerful.”  But shame, where is thy sting?  Labor had so many friends on the Hill, but the friends had all dispersed after the signing ceremony on the Affordable Care Act, and then many no longer served after the 2010 elections.  As Wikepedia tells us:  “Although the President’s party usually loses congressional, statewide and local seats in a midterm elections, the 2010 midterm election season featured some of the biggest losses since the Great Depression.”

Why this time, is it different?  In an election year and the prospect of a divided government continuing past the election, it isn’t.  Suppose the Dems win big in November?  Should we expect KOPPA in the first 100 days?   I would not be sanguine.  Senator Sanders intends to open the Tax Code up for a pay-for.  That proverbial can of squirms cannot be opened for just one little adjustment.

My Remarks Upon Receiving the 2015 John L. Lewis Award

Marc’s Remarks Upon Receiving 2015 John L. Lewis Award

Thank you, Randy, and thanks to the Executive Board and all of you for this award. I am very touched by the presence of so many friends and colleagues, most of whom I am delighted to see.

A note on the venue, I was here the first week the new Diplomat opened. Years before in the 1990’s, I worked on a settlement of Diplomat litigation including arbitration before the late great Nell Hennessy. And have been here many, many times. Oddly enough, my spouse has never been here. Stacia Davis LeBlanc, Esq., please raise your hand. She is not the power behind the throne, she is the throne. Staci said, oh cool I finally have a chance to see the Dip (but I bet Randy makes you do a session – that of course was true). I told Staci she should been here years ago – the heyday oh so long ago – Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and my friend Bill Sweeney, the leader of the Plumbers’ National Fund.

I want to speak today particularly to the fund staff, the administrators, executive directors, processors, receptionists, etc. It is you, more than counsel (I know I was one), actuaries, or investment professionals who are the hearts and souls of our funds. Sorry my Segal friends, you know it is true.

Fund staffers must never hope that plan administration will be easy. Do not dream that that you’ll be free from change, from struggle, from worry. Remember it is not our objective to make things easy, to reach a point of having arrived, to be at rest. We have a saying at my Fund, “Tell the Trustees something is hard, and they will tell you to do it.”

There is no rest in this business. Your objective is to use each day and every crisis to further the mission. Always ask when something seems important or serious, or challenging or even demeaning – what does this have to do with paying benefits? The less it has to do with that, the less important it is.

When Randy told me about this honor, I demurred. I rarely suffer from false modesty…

Want to read more, great, but I haven’t figured out how to do a one-click link!  Send ERISANation a note for a full pdf.  


Last year, yours truly was honored to receive the John L. Lewis Award from the multiemployer benefits industry.  The National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans,, selects the recipients.  Here is a list of honorees since the Award’s inception in 2001 as well as a brief note on the reasons for a an honoree’s selection.


  1. 2001    Richard L. Trumka, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO for his work in the establishment of the Center for Working Capital;
  2. 2002 Landon Butler, for his work in the creation of the Multi-Employer Property Trust, one of the first and largest union-only job creating REITs;
  3. 2003 Martin E. Segal creator and former Chairman of The Segal Company for a lifetime of work in the development and service of multiemployer plans;
  4. 2004 Earl Hall, for his work in promoting grass-roots support for our efforts in obtaining relief against the historically unprecedented investment losses suffered in the early 2000s;
  5. 2005     John Pappas, a life-long leader in the provision of insurance services to multiemployer plans;
  6. 2006 James S. Ray, one of the country’s leading ERISA counsel and a 30 year member of the NCCMP working committee who took the lead in many legislative issues concerning multiemployer plans;
  7. 2007 Chris Heinz, for his leadership and support in the effort to obtain funding reform for multiemployer pension plans;
  8. 2008 Representative Rob Andrews for assistance in passing the Pension Protection Act;
  9. 2009 Vincent Panvini, Legislative Director, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, for leading a successful campaign to prevent taxation of employer sponsored health benefits;
  10. 2010 Phyllis C. Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefit Security Administration, for a lifetime of service to the multiemployer community.
  11. 2011 Michael Sullivan, for his leadership in preserving defined benefit pensions in the Sheet Metal Industry;
  12. 2012 Judith F. Mazo, former Senior Vice President and Director of Research of the Segal Company for freely shared expertise addressing complex multiemployer plan issues;
  13. 2013 Patrick D. Finley, General President of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons International Association;
  14. 2014 David S. Blitzstein, retired Special Assistant to the General President for multiemployer funds, United Food and Commercial Workers; and
  15. 2015 Marc Le Blanc, retired Fund Administrator and General Counsel, Sheet Metal Workers National Pension Fund, recognizing his career of service to participants in multiemployer pension and health and welfare funds.



It’s fall and the legislative calendar begins to compress. Will Congress enact the so-called Title III to MEPRA? What may be at stake is the last bastion of real pensions, organized labor 10 million or so lives built on these plans.