Federal agency sounds alarm on American Airlines' pensions

Despite what American Airlines says, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. thinks the airline's workers should be worried about their pensions.

Responding to a letter that American executives sent to employees this week, the agency issued a statement Thursday saying that the Fort Worth-based airline is downplaying the potential consequences of terminating its pension plans in bankruptcy court. It said the airline has estimated that the pensions of some 13,000 workers could be cut.

"American Airlines is telling their workers and retirees not to worry, but they should," agency spokesman J. Jioni Palmer said. "American said nothing's been decided yet but didn't even bother to pretend that it was trying to preserve its employees' pensions."

Workers may learn the plan for their pensions next week when American meets with three unions to discuss the airline's restructuring. Executives have indicated that they want to use bankruptcy to trim labor costs to better compete with other airlines that have shed costs in court.

In the letter sent Monday, American said more than 90 percent of its workers would see no cuts in their pension benefits even if the plans are terminated. The airline's pension plans cover 130,000 workers and retirees.

The PBGC, which insures pensions based on employer contributions, has been publicly challenging American to keep its pensions ever since the airline filed for bankruptcy Nov. 29.

This month, the federal agency asked the bankruptcy judge to issue subpoenas so the agency can obtain testimony and to force AMR Corp., American's parent, to produce documents related to the plans.

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