The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN
Plaintiff, instituting the action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. (ERISA), complains that defendants
wrongfully denied him pension benefits when they failed to properly give him credit for the full twenty years that he worked as a coal miner. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the pension plan, administered by defendants, provides for the payment of benefits to retired employees with at least twenty years of past service credit. Defendants, moving for summary judgment, argue that plaintiff is not entitled to twenty years' credit because his employer from 1948-1957, the Dyzel Coal Co. (Dyzel), was not a signatory to any collective bargaining agreement.
In order to obtain pension credit for work as a miner the pension plan established by the Fund provides that the miner, or "plan participant", have at least twenty years of "Classified Employment" which is defined as employment "by an Operator for which the Operator is obligated by its agreement to contribute to the Fund". Pension Plan, § 1.01. An "Operator" in turn, is defined as
an employer signatory to the Wage Agreement with the Union requiring contributions to the Fund, or who in writing adopts and agrees to be bound by the terms of the Wage Agreement and Trust Agreement. [The] term ["operator"] shall not be deemed to include an employer simply because it is part of a controlled group of corporations or of a trade business under common control, some part of which is an operator.
Defendants urge that because one of plaintiff's employers, Dyzel, was not a signatory to any union wage agreement and because Dyzel was not obligated to contribute to the Fund's pension plan, that the time that plaintiff was employed with Dyzel is not includable in computing the required twenty years.
Defendants, on the other hand, have made a showing that Dyzel did not contribute to the pension plan and that plaintiff's work for that company cannot be counted toward the requirement of the Fund that an employee spend twenty years working for a contributing employer. We shall nevertheless deny defendants' motion for summary judgment because of the method by which credit for non-work periods may be accrued.
Section 3.04 of the Pension Plan provides:
Credits for Non-Working Periods During the Contribution Period.
This section recognizes certain periods when a Participant is not actually at work in Classified Employment but is to receive credit just as if he were working in Classified Employment. Periods of absence from Classified Employment are to be credited as though they were worked in Classified Employment as follows:
(a) Service in any of the armed forces of the United States in time of war or national emergency or pursuant to a national conscription law, provided the Participant left Classified Employment to enter such service and makes himself available for Classified Employment within six months after release from active duty or six months after recovery from a disability continuing after his release from active duty, but excluding periods of voluntary reenlistments not effected during a national emergency or time of war.
(b) For a period not to exceed four years for which workmen's compensation disability benefits were paid, if the disability was based on a mine injury or mine occupational disease, provided the Participant was last, or at ...