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Pension Funds

List of struggling multiemployer plans grows in 2018

The number of multiemployer pension plans in crisis continues to grow, according to an analysis by Cheiron, released Thursday.

The annual survey, based on several sources of plan data for all multiemployer plans, found the number of plans declaring themselves likely to be insolvent within 20 years grew to 121 with a collective $48.9 billion in underfunding, up from 114 plans with $36.4 billion, in 2017.

The 121 plans have total assets of $40.7 billion and liabilities of $89.6 billion. Another 67 plans already have terminated but have not yet run out of cash.

Three plans account for $31.9 billion, 65%, of the total unfunded liability and 43.7% of participants among all failing multiemployer pension plans.

New to the top three this year is the $2.9 billion New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund, Burlington, Mass., with $5.1 billion in underfunding.

The $16.1 billion Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Plan, Rosemont, Ill, tops the list, with $22.9 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Last year's second place plan, the $3.14 billion United Mine Workers of America 1974 pension plan, Washington, fell to fourth with $3 billion in unfunded liability, behind the $4.35 billion Bakery & Confectionery Union and Industry International Pension Fund, Kensington, Md., with $3.85 billion in unfunded liabilities.

The struggling plans, officially declared critical and declining, suffered a combination of factors, including stock market losses during the Great Recession, declining industries with fewer active participants, and employers leaving plans through bankruptcy or withdrawal, which raises the level of unfunded liabilities for remaining employers.

"In just this past year, 15 more plans have informed regulators that they are failing," said Joshua Davis, a Cheiron principal consulting actuary. While some of the ailing plans might be able to take advantage of a benefit reduction program overseen by the Treasury Department, "the specter of a possible legislative solution" from a special bipartisan, bicameral committee in Congress working on the multiemployer crisis might be putting some on hold, Mr. Davis said.

The 121 struggling plans are part of 1,400 multiemployer plans covered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., and many are considered healthy. "It's getting to be a barbell effect," said Mr. Davis. For those healthy plans, "you are seeing a general uptick in funding ratio, if they were able to weather 2008."