The Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension Plan poses an unusual administration problem for Douglas Blaylock: he doesn't know where to find 2,000 of its eligible retirees.
The $100 million, self-administered multiemployer plan, located in Keene, Calif., was founded in 1975 by the United Farm Workers of America union, the creation of labor leader Cesar Chavez. Union-affiliated grower-employers contribute 3 cents to 25 cents an hour per worker to the fund, which began paying out retirement benefits in 1979. Since then, approximately 2,200 retirees and their beneficiaries have received benefits, said Mr. Blaylock, administrator. Almost as many have not yet been located, and many are not aware they're eligible for benefits.
Many plan members, mostly migrant workers, "didn't really understand the (collective bargaining agreement) contract," he said, explaining that English is a second language for many of the union members, and some don't speak it at all.
Another complication in locating the retirees is that they sometimes use false names and social security numbers because they are working in the United States illegally. The fund does not check on union members' immigration status as a basis for paying benefits because it is the employers' responsibility to verify a worker's employment eligibility, he said.
The effort to find pensioners includes a toll-free telephone number, which has been featured in local newspaper articles. Also, California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is taping radio and television spots that will air in the United States and Mexico. In addition, "a lot of them hear (about their benefits) by word of mouth," Mr. Blaylock said.
When the fund locates a retiree, it often arranges a press conference, hoping the media attention will help spread the word. For example, at the beginning of the year the fund found Jose Vargas, a retiree from Jalisco, Mexico, who became eligible for benefits in 1990; contributions were made to his account between 1977 and 1984. In front of television and newspaper cameras, Mr. Vargas received a giant novelty check - and a real one - for the $15,000 he was owed. He also will receive pension benefits of nearly $400 a month.