PIPELINE PENSION SETTLED|
Wednesday, September 22, 1999
ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS
TONY HOPFINGER, Daily News reporter
Nearly 3,600 electrical workers who labored on the trans-Alaska oil
pipeline in the 1970s will split $18 million in a settlement with the
Alaska Electrical Pension Fund.
It's the fifth, and possibly last, settlement involving thousands of
pipeline-construction workers who were deprived of pensions after working
on the $9 billion project two decades ago, said Richard Birmingham, the
Seattle lawyer who has represented most of the union workers since the first lawsuit was filed in 1989.
"At this point, I'm not getting any more calls," he said Tuesday.
The latest settlement was reliminarily approved last week in
Washington state District Court, he said.
The Alaska Electrical Pension Fund in Anchorage, which handles pensions
for the Anchorage-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Local 1547, has agreed to pay 3,577 former members who were laid off
between Jan. 1, 1978 and Dec. 31, 1979, Birmingham said.
The settlement should be finalized Dec. 16, he said.
Those who may qualify have until Dec. 31 to claim their share of the
So far, 2,506 people have filed claims, including 248 Alaskans, he said.
Officials at the Alaska Electrical Trust Fund in Anchorage, which
administers the retirement benefits, declined comment Tuesday, but
confirmed that the Internal Revenue Service had sent a notice to eligible
Bruce McKenzie, the Seattle lawyer for the Electrical Pension Fund, was
out of town Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment. In a written
statement, he said his client chose to settle partly to avoid "the expense
and uncertainty of continued litigation."
The dispute between pipeline construction workers and union pensions
goes back to 1974, when oil companies agreed to industry wide contracts
with Alaska unions to build the trans-Alaska oil pipeline between 1974 and
Union members were given generous benefits and paid some of the highest
wages in their trades nationwide at the time.
But thousands of workers never collected pensions because they were laid
off between 1977 and 1980, well before they could become eligible for
In most cases, the Alaska pension plans had required union members to
work for at least 10 years to gain benefits and prohibited the transfer of
pension standing to other unions in other states.
Since the late 1980s, former union pipeline workers have fought to claim
their pensions. They argue that a provision in the pension plans required
workers to become vested, or eligible for benefits, in the event of a
layoff of more than 20 percent of workers, which happened in a number of
cases as the pipeline was completed.
Not only has this legal argument helped electrical workers reclaim their
pensions in last week's settlement, Birmingham has
also used it to win settlements for Teamsters, carpenters, operational
engineers and other skilled workers.
"These lawsuits have brought about a further awareness of how union
(pension) plans operate," Birmingham said. "It's also helped to shorten the
vesting period for unions to five years."
Claims for the new settlement may be sent to Alaska Electrical Pension
Fund Litigation, c/o Davis Wright Tremaine, 2600 Century Square, 1501
Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98101.
* Reporter Tony Hopfinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anchorage Daily News-- Anchorage Daily News Website
Trans-Alaskan-- The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline