If current writers for the Orange County Register are freaking out about the paper's second bankruptcy in six years, former employees are outright furious. They're fretting about pension plans being lobbed around in bankruptcy court like bald tennis balls–beat-up, unloved, and in danger of never getting fully paid out.
Now, a group of Register alumni are mulling legal options to go after the federal caretaker in charge of representing them.
Documents filed in U.S. bankruptcy court state that Freedom Communications (parent company, of course, to the Reg) owes about $15.5 million as of Sept. 15 into the Register's pension fund, mandatory payments that former owner Aaron Kushner never bothered to pay. On the plan's behalf, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the government agency tasked with protecting retirement funds in the public sector, has filed "various notices of federal lien" dating back to August 2014, according to petitions, including liens against Freedom's properties. Those same petitions also reveal that the IRS levied a $1.66 million excise tax "related to the aforementioned unpaid contributions."
But the PBGC's efforts aren't good enough for Register's retirees, laid-off or bought-out staffers, and those still working at the paper. On Unregistered and Unbound, a private Facebook group administered by former Reg workers, former business reporter Mary Ann Milbourn posted the following yesterday:
Hey friends in the Freedom pension plan. Things are not good in this BK. I'm afraid the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government agency that is supposed to protect our benefits, is happy to settle for less — a lot less — so that it doesn't have to take over the pension. Our pensions could be cut substantially — I'm told as much as 25 percent to 50 percent and that includes people currently collecting pensions. I'm trying to figure out our legal options. How many of you are behind me if I approach the US Trustee to say I represent the journalists in the pension plan, that our interests aren't aren't being represented by the PBGC and that we will contact our friends in the press to express our concerns? It's up to you.
"Friends in the press"? I'm a friend in the press! Gracias for the tip, Mary Ann!
Milbourn's proposal was met with approval by Unregistered and Unbound members, mostly because that's the only option they have at this point.
"People are freaking out," said one veteran Register writer still with the paper, who requested anonymity. "The older folks were counting on that pension money to get them through the rest of their life. Now? A bunch of legal headaches, for sure."