It’s interesting. I spoke in my last post about the possibility of using ERISA and employee benefits to alter the course of economic inequality, referencing that pensions might be a better choice to accomplish that but they aren’t coming back. If they are, even in just isolated circumstances, it will be as a result of unionization or other job action to get them. Shortly after publishing my last post, this excellent article from Maryland attorney Barry Gogel showed up in my feed, explaining Brooks Robinson’s role in a 1972 job action by major league baseball players to force team owners to use a pension plan surplus to increase future pensions. It is always interesting to note the central role pensions played in the labor/ownership relationship in the years before defined contribution plans replaced them, and Barry’s article is a nice window into that dynamic.
It’s also interesting, though, to notice something else in this story, which is that the labor dispute is over the use of a funding surplus. It remains fascinating to me how often, even today, surplus capital in retirement plans play a role in business decisions, as well as in the ongoing relationship between employees and their employers. In my own practice, it often seems to me that access to and control of funding surpluses plays a bigger role in questionable or disputed decisions than funding shortfalls themselves ever do.