The 2015 Pension 40: Karen Ferguson and Karen Friedman

No. 22 Karen Ferguson & Karen Friedman, Founder and Director; Policy Director / Pension Rights Center

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< The 2015 Pension 40: The Long Climb

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22
Karen Ferguson & Karen Friedman
Founder and Director; Policy Director / Pension Rights Center
Last year’s rank: 30

In 1974, Congress enacted ERISA, which protects the deferred compensation of private sector employees. In 1976, Karen Ferguson, a recent Harvard Law School graduate, founded the Washington-based Pension Rights Center to ensure, through education, lobbying and advocacy, that retirees receive their promised pensions. “The work we were doing in 1976 has only gotten more important now,” says PRC director Ferguson. “The challenges to retirement security today we couldn’t have imagined 40 years ago.” One of the PRC’s biggest battles has been fighting the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (see Randy DeFrehn, No. 23). Signed into law by President Obama in a year-end omnibus bill, the MPRA allows trustees of union Taft-Hartley pensions to reduce benefits in advance of anticipated fund insolvencies. “It toppled one of the fundamental tenets of ERISA,” says PRC policy director Karen Friedman, a Georgetown University grad who joined in 1980. Friedman has been speaking about the issue with affected retirees across the U.S., and Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, has taken up PRC’s fight against MPRA by introducing the Keep Our Pension Promises Act of 2015. “The Karens,” as they’re known, have also tackled the issue of companies that buy out retirees’ pensions with loans made at usurious interest rates, called pension advances. They also backed the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Treasury Department’s July ban on employers offering retirees who receive monthly benefits lump-sum payouts as part of de-risking actions. And they’re advocating for victims of employer recoupment efforts in pension overpayments.

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