The opinion of the court was delivered by: FULLAM
By virtue of various applications and responses thereto, all of which will be detailed later, the Court is required to make comprehensive rulings governing the status of various retirement programs and related programs of the Debtor. A brief description of the programs in question is set forth below; the actual application of each program to particular employees may vary depending upon hiring date and previous employment history:
1. Retirement Programs. The retirement programs detailed below are designed to complement and supplement employee benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act, 45 U.S.C. § 228a et seq., and for the most part are applicable only to employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements.
(a) Plan for Supplemental Pensions. This plan is primarily funded with employee contributions. However, the Debtor makes certain annual contributions to insure the actuarial soundness of the plan. Order No. 278 in these proceedings recognizes that the Debtor had no interest in this fund, which, as of April 30, 1972, amounted to $353,521,624. The Debtor does, however, have the right to terminate the program, in which event the fund would be divided among the participants pro rata.
The only issue now before the Court is whether the plan should be terminated. The Debtor's contributions to the program amount to approximately $2 million per year. The Trustees seek authorization to continue the program in operation.
Forty-seven employees eligible under the Central plan receive a total of about $23,000 annually, approximately $480 per retiree. Three hundred forty-seven former New Haven employees receive a total of $285,000 per year, approximately $825 per retiree. These amounts are gradually diminishing as a result of attrition.
(c) Interim or Early Retirement Plan. This program is designed to facilitate the retirement of selected employees at age 60, rather than at age 65, by assuring total pension benefits equivalent to those which would have been received had retirement been postponed until age 65. Granting of such early retirement is discretionary with the company, but when early retirement has occurred, the company is legally obligated to continue the interim benefits. A similar program, differing somewhat in its mechanics, was inherited from the New York Central in the merger.
For the year 1972, costs to the Debtor under the program amounted to $3,693,000. This cost would decline substantially in future years, unless additional employees are granted early retirement.
Implementation of the early retirement programs produces significant overall economies, making it possible to consolidate certain positions, or to replace highly paid employees with younger, less highly paid substitutes, without the disruptions which would ensue if employees with many years of long and faithful service to the railroad were to be discharged a few years short of retirement. The Trustees estimate that the net savings for the year 1972 amounted to $7.2 million. Projected savings to the year 1980 aggregate some $45 million.
(d) Additional Pension Benefits. The Debtor also provides certain additional pension benefits, in two categories: (1) Since 1961, the Debtor has had a policy of crediting prior executive experience with other employers toward the pension entitlements of newly hired executives over 35 years of age earning more than $20,000 annually. The difference between the pension computed with such credit and the pension which would have been paid without such credit is made up from the Debtor's estate. The additional costs under this constructive service policy aggregate approximately $87,000 annually at the present time, and could eventually amount to slightly more than $145,000 annually. The Debtor's constructive service policy follows the universal practice throughout the railroad industry.
(2) Benefits under the Plan for Supplemental Pensions are based upon the employee's average salary over the last five years of employment. Initially, amounts allocated under the Contingent Compensation Plan (see infra) were included as salary, for purposes of this computation. However, a 1968 Internal Revenue Service ruling made it necessary to change this policy. Supplement A to the Contingent Compensation Program insures that persons retiring after 1968 will be treated the same as pre-1968 retirees; that is, the Debtor pays the difference between the actual pension benefits and what those benefits would have been if contingent compensation had been included in the computation.
The Trustees propose to continue to carry out all of the foregoing programs.
Shortly before the Debtor filed its reorganization petition, the Board of Directors suspended the Contingent Compensation Program, and it remains in suspension to the present date. The details of the program, and the Trustees' proposals with respect to it, will be discussed below.
Resolution of the conflicting contentions of the parties should begin with recognition of the following general principles:
1. Vested, fully funded contributory pension programs are not affected by the employer's filing for reorganization under § 77. The assets in any such pension fund are not "property of the Debtor." This much appears to be conceded by virtually all of the parties, and, in any event, has been resolved by Order No. 278 in these proceedings.
2. Irrespective of whether a pension plan is funded or unfunded, continuation of pension payments thereunder is generally treated as a necessary and usual operating expense, payable by the Trustees during reorganization as a cost of doing business. Justification for this practice has been found to arise from the fact that the employee's past services helped to create and preserve the estate of the Debtor, e.g., Bowen v. Hockley et al., 71 F.2d 781 (4th Cir. 1934), or from the necessity of preserving the loyalty and morale of present and future employees, see : Tate v. New York, New Haven & Hartford R.R., 332 F.2d 449 (2d Cir. 1964). However, insofar as current payments are concerned, the Trustees have the power to make adjustments in the amount and manner of payment, so long as this is done on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Tate v. New York, New Haven & Hartford R.R., supra.
3. Contractual arrangements for deferred compensation, as distinguished from pension programs, may be disaffirmed by the Trustees, and the claims of employees or former employees resulting from such disaffirmance are not entitled to any special priority or acceleration; the claimants are merely general creditors of the Debtor's estate. Alpert v. New York, New Haven & Hartford R.R., 348 F.2d 304 (2d Cir. 1965).
There is thus no difficulty in concluding that the funded pension plan of the Debtor should continue undisturbed, and that the Trustees should continue to make the required contributions. Nor is there any reason for questioning the propriety of the Trustees continuing to carry out the various unfunded pension programs outlined above. These are merely normal operating expenses.
The principal disputes in the present proceeding have to do with the correct treatment of the Debtor's Contingent Compensation Plan, and the legal propriety of imposing a maximum limitation upon the amount payable to any retiree. These issues will be discussed separately.
II. THE CONTINGENT COMPENSATION PLAN
There are two separate issues, or sets of issues, which must be decided in connection with the Contingent Compensation Program: (1) the status of the Contingent Compensation Fund ("Fund") which was established in connection with this program, and (2) the legal rights of participants in the program (the "Plan"). These issues are, of course, related, in the sense that both the Fund and the Plan must be considered in determining the basic question of whether this is a pension program or some other kind of arrangement; and it is therefore not surprising that the ...