The U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) today announced a proposed exemption that, if granted, would allow the New Chrysler Corp. to transfer approximately $4.59 billion promissory note and company securities to a Voluntary Employees Benefit Association (VEBA) Plan established to provide health benefits for the company's retirees. The retiree health plan would cover about 120,000 retirees and dependents when it becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2010.
New Chrysler requested an exemption under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow the VEBA plan to hold stock and debt of New Chrysler in order to facilitate the sale of the company to Fiat North America LLC. ERISA prohibits certain plans from holding large percentages of plan assets in the form of employer securities. The law gives the department authority, however, to grant exemptions that protect the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries.
On May 31, 2009, a United States bankruptcy court issued a decision allowing old Chrysler to sell substantially all of its assets to New Chrysler. New Chrysler is headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich., and employs 55,000 employees. New Chrysler is owned by the Canadian Government, the U.S. Treasury, Fiat and the VEBA plan.
The exemption would allow the securities transfer, permit New Chrysler and its health plans to reimburse each other for benefit payments mistakenly paid by the wrong entity during the transition to the new plan, and permit the automaker to recover mistaken deposits to the plan.
The assets of the VEBA plan will be held by the same trust that holds the assets of the plans established by Ford and General Motors for their respective retirees. There will be separate accounting for each plan maintained by the three companies that are now funded through a single trust.
The primary condition of the proposal is the appointment of an independent fiduciary to represent the plan with regard to New Chrysler securities transactions. The independent fiduciary will determine in advance of taking any action regarding the securities that the action is in the interests of the plan and its participants and beneficiaries. The proposed exemption also requires the review of benefit payments by an independent third party administrator and auditor for each of the plans and an objective dispute resolution process. In addition, the proposal sets time limits for the return of mistaken deposits and an objective dispute resolution process.