Feb. 27, 2006 – The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has filed liens in excess of $3.2 million against the Virgin Islands Telephone Co., the Daily News Publishing Company Inc., and Innovative Communications Corp. because ICC failed to pay into its union employees' pension plans for at least a year.
The federal liens, filed Feb. 23 on St. Croix and Feb. 24 on St. Thomas, are for $1.5 million and $1.7 million.
The $1.7 million lien was for failure to pay pensions for the ICC Consolidated Pension Plan. The $1.5 million lien was for money not paid into the Virgin Islands Telephone Corporation Pension Plan for Hourly Employees.
Jeffrey Speicher, spokesperson for PBGC, said Monday afternoon that when a company fails to pay their contributions the guarantor files liens against all the entities that have assets for the amount of the missed contributions.
Speicher also said the liens were for the annual missed amounts. He said PBGC does not file liens on quarterly missed contributions. He said the companies in question did fail to make such quarterly contributions, both before and after the July 15, 2005, annual payment date, but he could not say for how many quarters, or which ones.
Frederick Joseph, sub-director of the United Steelworkers of America local 8713 and 8545, the union that represents Vitelco employees, said Monday that Vitelco had failed to provide an accounting of the pension contributions during contract negotiations in October saying they had a right by law to hold back payments. However, the liens would suggest otherwise.
Joseph also said the company wanted to stop paying into the employees' fund, but the union negotiated to keep the pension by giving up increases in the company's contribution.
Joseph said, "We gave up the multiplier," which is a complicated calculation that raises the amount an employee could receive based on years of service and other factors.
The pension plans that ICC pays into are "traditional," Speicher said, meaning the employee gets a set amount upon retirement.
Vitelco and the Daily News fund the pension plans. The employees do not contribute, Joseph said.
Robert Allen, staff representative of the United Steelworkers-St. Thomas District, said the pension fund contribution was one of the major reasons Vitelco workers went on strike a few years ago. (See "Phone, Cable-TV Workers Picketing on 3 Islands".)
He said the workers were looking for a better pension plan and better health plan.
Just how these pension liens will relate to the ongoing attempt by some of Prosser's adversaries to force ICC into involuntary bankruptcy is anybody's guess at this point. The question is what priority the pension obligations would have relative to those of the Rural Telephone Finance Cooperative and its new ally, known as the Greenlight Companies, the minority stockholders of ICC's predecessor firm, Emerging Communications Inc.
The pension rights question would arise only if the RTFC-Greenlight forces are successful in their involuntary bankruptcy efforts. (See "Prosser Pushed toward Bankruptcy".)
The Source was unable to reach Holland Redfield, ICC spokesman and vice president, for comment as he was in the Senate all day giving testimony on why Vitelco should continue to receive tax breaks under the Economic Development Commission program. (See Committee Approves Bill Denying EDC Benefits to Utility Companies.)In calls made later, his cell phone cut off and there was no answer on his home phone.
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