I was in Chicago earlier this week when the federal bankruptcy judge declared that United Airlines didn't have to fulfill its pension obligations.
Local television rushed to get reaction from airline employees, most of them based in Chicago. You could see the anguish on their faces.
They had counted on those pensions to retire with a reasonable lifestyle after a lifetime of working for what was once the world's leading airline. Now those retirement plans have to be revised since the pensions they will receive will be reduced significantly.
Thank goodness they can at least count on Social Security to help out. Whether some of the younger airline employees will be able to do the same will depend on how successful George Bush and his pals are at dismantling the program.
But the airline employees aren't the only ones who will pay for another airline business debacle.
The pension insurance corporation that the U.S. government started in 1972 will pick up a substantial portion of the tab to once again bail out a big corporation whose executives are otherwise in favor of limiting the role government plays in the nation's commerce.
Our corporate world is all for keeping government regulations to a minimum until, of course, it affects its own bottom lines. Then it becomes most appropriate for government to stick its nose into private business.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that guarantees corporate pension plans so that workers don't lose everything, will pick up a little more than $9 billion of United's $12 billion obligations. The PBGC gets its money from premiums on other pension plans and through investments it makes.
Unfortunately, though, United may be just the beginning. US Airways, Delta and Northwest, among others, are just waiting in the wings for similar concessions.
Just how much can the PBGC cover before the government has to step in with some taxpayer money to come to the aid of airline workers whose companies are so poorly operated they can't figure out how to make enough money to pay their bills?
So far, we haven't heard from those vocal members of Congress who insist that another transportation system - Amtrak - needs to make ends meet on its own.
They can't comprehend that a more balanced transportation system might just avoid some of the problems that have befallen the airlines.
It's somehow OK to have the government bail out a private corporation, but not OK to assist a government entity like Amtrak - which does pay full pensions, incidentally - help the nation get around.
© 2005 Capital Times