CORPaTH’s 2022 Crystal Globe Awards Banquet and Summit featured highly respected leaders in the pension community who provided insights into important trends and developments in the ongoing fight to preserve, protect and perpetuate lifetime income security for working people.
Crystal Globe Awards Banquet
The events began during the evening of Dec. 13, when CORPaTH’s Crystal Globe Awards were presented to three innovators who dedicate their lives to the advancement of working people and retirees. They included:
- Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO labor federation. Redmond was introduced by Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW 8-Golden State and chair of the UFCW Trust in Northern and Central California. Loveall called attention to Redmond’s background as a descendant of enslaved people who worked his way through the ranks of the United Steelworkers in Chicago to become the highest-ranking African American in the history of the Labor Movement.
“Thanks to his father’s Union job in the steel industry, his family had health care, dental care and wages that took care of his family’s needs, and Fred never took what he received for granted,” Loveall said. “He knew that an organized work force is the key for achieving gains for American workers and holding onto those gains after they’re acquired.”
Loveall concluded his introductory comments, saying: “Fred’s leadership has relentlessly been focused on building a better future for working families, protecting the most core tenets of what makes a working person’s life tolerable in this country, and those are fighting for livable wages, dignity and respect, affordable health care and, of course, the gold standard, defined-benefit pension plans.”
In his acceptance speech, Redmond praised federal legislation to rebuild America’s infrastructure and help fortify defined-benefit pensions. “We work hard so we can retire hard,” he said. He also endorsed CORPaTH’s efforts to promote worker’s capital, adding: “Our investments shouldn’t undermine our values. Our capital is our influence…. Through CORPaTH, we can build an equitable future for all workers.”
- Rob Feckner, former president and current vice president of the CalPERS Board of Administration. He was introduced by a pair of CalPERS veterans: retired UFCW Union Local 5 president and CalPERS board member Ron Lind and CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost, who praised Feckner’s 24-year history of service in safeguarding defined-benefit pensions for more than 1.5 million California public employees, retirees and their families.
In his remarks, Feckner said his main job was to “navigate our funds through the political quagmire” while always keeping in mind a single question: “How will my decision impact the members?” He added: “I will treasure this experience forever.”
- Eric Dean, general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. In his words of introduction, longtime friend and colleague Jeb Banks of BNY Melon noted how Dean’s family has been active in the Ironworkers for more than five generations — so far. Banks said Dean once told him: “If you can imagine it and you can draw it, the Iron Workers can build it.”
Dean emphasized in his remarks how “there’s no secret sauce for doing the right thing” on behalf of protecting the members’ pensions. “You make the hard decisions, not the easy ones.” He continued: “Defined-benefit pensions are the epitome of what a member wants in a Union. It’s our job to protect them, even if it means saying ‘no’ when you have to. That’s what Iron Workers do. We take the harder path.”
Comedian and author Dr. Leighann Lord entertained the Crystal Globe Awards attendees as master of ceremonies. Ron Auer, executive director of CORPaTH, welcomed the audience prior to handing out the awards.
Summit opening remarks
In his opening address to attendees of the CORPaTH Summit the next day, Jacques Loveall said “we need to speak the truth” to politicians and others who would endanger the security of defined-benefit pensions through poorly devised policies and regulations.
“If we don’t push back and call out inequities and direct threats, all our efforts can be crushed by an ill-conceived law or self-serving few,” he said.
“We are here as CORPaTHians with the sole purpose of protecting, promoting and perpetuating defined-benefit pensions for our loved ones and millions of other people who deserve peace of mind.”
Loveall cited recent congressional legislation, crafted with the help of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP), which addresses the need for long-lasting solutions for underfunded pension plans. “This success couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.
Nevertheless, “We have massive challenges before us and that is patching up holes in the ship we call defined benefit plans,” he continued.
“It is critical to treat workers fairly and to assure companies honor their pension obligations. Ours is a sacred responsibility: to protect the pensions earned through a lifetime of work.
CORPaTH Summit panel discussions
The CORPaTH Summit continued with Ron Auer introducing a series of panel discussions featuring prominent pension trustees, consultants and analysts. The panels and their participants included:
- Defined-Benefit Plans — Now and Forward. Moderated by Hank Kim, executive director and counsel for the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) and a past Crystal Globe honoree, this panel explored the potential for defined-benefit pension funds to stabilize and grow following enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Its participants included Dan Doonan, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS); Rob Feckner of CalPERS; Christopher Heinz of Heinz Consulting; and Jason Russell, senior vice president of The Segal Group.
Heinz said pension funds need to account for technological and demographic changes which will affect the numbers of participants in future generations. He cautioned trustees not to increase their assumption rates. Doonan said while public-sector funds have improved their status, changes in assumptions continue to reflect a growing maturity in the work force. Russell addressed higher interest rates as an opportunity to reduce risks in investment. Feckner said younger workers may be leaving some state agencies toward other jobs which provide more opportunities to work from home. Special attention should be paid to these workers to explain the benefits of defined-benefit plans, he said.
- PBGC’s Special Financial Assistance. Kirk Vogt, secretary-treasurer of UFCW 8-Golden State and a trustee on the UFCW Trust, moderated this panel, which explored the possible effects of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s new authority to grant direct aid to multiemployer pension funds in distress. The panelists included Iron Workers General President Eric Dean and Jason Russell of The Segal Group.
Russell said guaranteeing the PGBC’s survivability was an important part of the American Rescue Plan, which avoided the regressive and potentially destructive premium rules which had been proposed in earlier versions of the legislation. He also shared slides showing Special Funding Assistance can be a potential “forever solution” for underfunded pension plans. Dean explained how unions and employers helped advocate legislative solutions for the pension funding crisis.
- Workers’ Capital/Engagement. This discussion, moderated by CORPaTH Executive Director Ron Auer, featured Sarah Bernstein, head of sustainability at Meketa Investment Group; Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO; Maureen O’Brien, senior vice president in the Chicago office of Segal Marco Advisors; Steve Sleigh of Sleigh Strategy LLC; and David Webber of Boston University’s School of Law. Webber announced copies of his book, The Rise of the Working Class Shareholder, were being distributed to CORPaTH participants.
Webber drew a parallel between workers gaining a collective voice through their Unions and working class shareholders becoming able to unite to influence corporate policies. Redmond said Unions are an effective tool for preserving defined-benefit pensions and calling attention to excessive pay raises for CEOs. “It’s about priorities,” he said. O’Brien noted the Department of Labor allows investment policy statements to include ESG factors, including the interests of plan participants. Other tools available to ESG advocates include manager selection, proxy voting and shareholder advocacy, she said. Sleigh referred to defined-contribution plans as “Yo-Yo plans” — “You’re On Your Own.” He talked about defined-benefit plans being able to access private-equity investments, which are playing a growing role in the economy. “You have a real say, a direct voice” in such investments, he said. Bernstein described how Meketa and other investment firms are working with through the Investment Consultant Sustainability Working Group (ICSWG) to draw attention to climate-change priorities and other ESG issues.
- Consultants. CORPaTH’s Ron Auer moderated this panel, which include analyses by John Marco, senior vice president of Segal Marco Advisors; Tim McCusker, chief investment office at NEPC; Steve McCourt, managing principal of Meketa Investment Group; and Annie Taylor, managing director and senior consultant for Verus.
Taylor explained how trustees can use a variety of promising tools to improve their investment returns. McCourt described how developments in the United Kingdom provide important lessons in the negative consequences of diminishing defined-benefit plans. McCusker described the new post-COVID environment for investors. “Instead of just taking more risks and seeing that rewarded, we’ve got a much broader landscape to think about,” he said. “We now see a world where there’s a much flatter risk curve, where maybe you don’t have to take the same kind of risks we’ve taken in the past decade to earn a return that meets your objectives.” Marco said he tells clients about three “big things” potentially affecting markets: inflation, the Russia-Ukraine war and the continuing worldwide COVID crisis. He said “disciplined rebalancing” is a key approach, as are close tracking of investments (“tending the garden”) and looking out for new opportunities for investment in the bond markets.
The CORPaTH Summit concluded with a VIP reception for program participants and sponsors at the Champion Level and above.
The CORPATH Crystal Globe Awards and Summit are set to return to Caesars Palace Las Vegas on Dec. 12-13, 2023.