Brian Faler
December 8, 2008

Pension funds at Pfizer Inc., International Business Machines Corp., United Parcel Service Inc. and dozens of other companies have joined the parade of businesses seeking relief from Congress amid this year’s economic meltdown.

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

Instead of money, they want legislation to suspend a federal law that would make them pump billions of dollars into retirement plans to offset stock-market losses as many struggle to find enough cash just to stay in business. They’re pressing Congress to consider the issue this week before this year’s session adjourns.

“The companies are not out there with their hand out for a bailout,” says Mark Ugoretz, head of the ERISA Industry Committee, a Washington advocacy group representing big businesses on benefit issues under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. “This is not about money; this is about time.”

About 800 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 1500 Index have pension funds, and they were collectively $280 billion short of the sums needed to pay projected benefits as of Nov. 30, according to a study by New York-based benefits consulting firm Mercer LLC. Those 800 funds started the year with a $60 billion surplus, Mercer estimated.

To gain help from Congress, the companies will have to overcome skeptics who say they are using the market plunge to undermine retirement-funding provisions in a 2006 law they didn’t like in the first place.

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