The fallout from the UAW-GM agreement shifting retiree health care benefits into a VEBA (Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association) keeps coming.
In a quick, penetrating article, BusinessWeek reporters David Welch and Nanette Byrnes enlighten readers about how many VEBAs are already around (about 12,000 nationwide), who's using them (employers with large, unionized workforces), and how well they are holding up:
In 1998, the equipment giant [Caterpillar ] set up a similar type of health-care trust to defray increases in retiree medical costs. By October, 2004, it ran dry, and retirees saw as much as $281 extra taken from their monthly pension checks. Now the retirees, union, and company are in litigation.
The article quickly explains the benefits of VEBAs to both business and labor:
For employers with aging workers and lots of retirees, a VEBA may be the only way, short of an elusive national health-care plan, to strip crushing liabilities from their books... For unions, a trust can provide an opportunity to safeguard members from losing benefits in the event of a corporate bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, New York Post reporter Paul Tharp is taking a more jaundiced, historical look at VEBAs:
General Motors is saving its financial neck and ending a surprise strike by using a century-old shelter device originally invented to quell the labor riots of the 1920s... VEBAs were created as tax shelters for giant coal and steel companies at the turn of the century to help pay for worker injuries and widows' benefits.
One thing is certain, you'll be hearing a lot more about VEBAs on this blog and in the U.S. Presidential Election campaign in the months ahead.
SOURCE: "Is GM's Health Plan Contagious?" by David Welch and Nanette Byrnes, BusinessWeek, September 27, 2007.
SOURCE: "GM's $nazzy New Model: VEBA," by Paul Tharp, New York Post, September 27, 2007.
photo courtesy of Abandoned In Place at Flickr