Many Chicago area retirees are members of the Local 710 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union currently receiving pensions from the Union’s sponsored pension plan. Frequently, pensioners call the Union office (which is shared with the pension fund’s office) to inquire if they may work in a particular job while receiving their pension. The Union’s response is usually that the pensioner cannot engage in work in the same industry as the pensioner’s former employment, or the work that was “Covered Employment” under the pension plan. A recent decision over what being “Retired” means may make those representations wrong, and entitle pensioners to receive their pensions while engaging in work which is not Covered Employment (i.e., employment with an employer who makes contributions to the Local 710 pension fund for your work).
In Schane v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Local No. 710 Pension Plan, Mr. Schane’s employer stopped making contributions to the pension fund when Schane was 48 years old. Schane resigned from that employer at the age of 50, asking for enhanced pension benefits under the plan for retiring over age 50. The pension fund denied the claim, asserting “Retirement” as defined in the plan, occurs upon the cessation of covered employment. Interestingly, the plan also provides that a pensioner’s benefits will only be suspended if that pensioner is no longer “retired”, under the same definition of “retire” that makes a pensioner eligible to receive pension benefits. After Schane sued for the benefits under ERISA § 502(a), the court accepted the Pension Fund’s argument.
This decision may be problematic for the pension fund when pensioners inquire about engaging in other employment while receiving a pension. Under the doctrine of judicial estoppel, the pension fund may be prevented from taking inconsistent positions in litigation. What this means is that once the pension fund has successfully argued retired means the cessation of Covered Employment, the pension fund may not be able to turn around and argue you are no longer retired if you start work outside of Covered Employment after you already retired.
If you are a pensioner from the Local 710 International Brotherhood of Teamsters and are contemplating post-retirement employment but want to know if it will impact your pension benefits, the best thing to do is get a properly documented written determination from the Plan. The pension fund requires the notice give sufficient information from which the Trustees can determine whether the employment would mean you are no longer retired. If you have questions regarding the Local 710 Teamsters Pension Plan, contact an experienced ERISA lawyer.