Social Security Privatization? What Will These People Retire ON?

American Title workers say retirement funds went missing

By David Migoya
The Denver Post

Posted:   03/30/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT

     Dozens of employees of bankrupt American Title Services — whose CEO committed suicide with a nail gun last month — say they are just now discovering that their company-run retirement accounts have been mostly drained.
     Some employees allege that money deducted from their paychecks for retirement savings was never deposited. Others said funds were withdrawn from their accounts without their permission or knowledge.
     Several have filed claims for the missing 401(k) fund in American Title’s bankruptcy.
     One employee said she transferred about $45,000 into an American Title retirement fund from an account with a previous employer, then had contributions deducted regularly from her paycheck over the next five years, only to find that it’s nearly all gone, according to court records and interviews.
     Another employee recently learned that three years of 401(k) contributions she made at American Title were liquidated in 2011, and that thousands of dollars were siphoned from her account literally overnight two years later without her knowledge or consent, court records show.
     “I just now find out that my account doesn’t even exist,” said Jacqueline Bartlett, a title examiner who started at American Title about a year ago and filed a bankruptcy claim. She said about $3,000 was deducted from her paychecks for her retirement, but when she contacted the plan administrator, she was told no account could be found.
     “I never got any statements, but I thought it was an oversight,” she said.
     The employees said their accounts were handled by an Internet-based company called A spokesperson for the company refused to comment.
     The allegations are the latest development in the unraveling tale of American Title CEO Richard Talley. Employees and industry watchers say on the surface the company appeared successful and growing, but its finances turned out to be in shambles.
     The missing employee retirement funds are not among lawsuit allegations from Title Resource Guaranty Corp. of Texas, which says American Title’s books were doctored to cover up a $2 million shortfall, all of it from escrow accounts set up to cover real estate expenses American Title handled at closing.
     American Title wrote real estate title insurance policies for Title Resource, which underwrote and guaranteed them.
     Talley, 56, killed himself in the garage of his Aurora home on Feb. 4, the day he was to meet with Title Resource officials over the escrow account discrepancies.
     Employees say he had attended a meeting that morning to discuss a new venture, to be called American Land Title.
     Talley’s widow, Cheryl Talley, American Title’s co-founder, has not been reachable, although she has denied in court records any knowledge of the company’s financial troubles.
     It’s unclear what the missing Title Resource escrow funds were spent on, or who was responsible for their misuse. After Talley’s death, the Colorado attorney general launched a grand jury investigation, and the state Division of Insurance began a civil inquiry into the company.
     But none of those investigations involve the employees’ missing savings, an issue which is just emerging in the bankruptcy claims they filed.
     Although only a handful of claims have been filed, employees said dozens are affected.
     The missing money included a company match to employee contributions as well as profit sharing, records show.
     Some employees said they took their allegations to the U.S. Department of Labor last year. The department appears to be investigating, according to e-mails and paperwork employees shared with The Denver Post.
     The department investigator identified in the communications would not comment, and a department spokesman similarly refused comment.
     The only indication of the inquiry appears in American Title bankruptcy filings that identify the company’s largest unsecured creditors. The Labor Department claim, “ERISA Plan Liability,” is for an undetermined amount.
     ERISA is the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, which sets conduct standards for those who manage employee benefit plans and their assets.
     Some employees said Richard Talley refused to give them access to their accounts and denied them passwords when they asked for them.
     “I asked for it on several occasions and was just pushed aside,” said Elizabeth Frederick, who worked as a closer at American Title for nearly six years. “We were not allowed access.”
     When Frederick finally got access last week, she learned much of the money she had invested was gone. She said there were others like her, but most were too worried about their jobs to make a fuss.
     “I could never get a password,” said a long-time employee who has not yet filed a claim and asked her name not be used because she is seeking new employment. She said she was laid off from American Title in 2011.
     “I put in about $100 a month for seven years, and my paychecks showed the company match,” the woman said. “When I left the company, it showed a balance of $1,200.”

Walmart Just Revealed How Poor US Shoppers Are

Walmart is no stranger to sensational headlines, but there’s at least one story this week that is just begging to be taken apart. Anyone who thinks “Walmart Just Revealed How Poor Its Customers Are” is an accurate reflection of the facts, needs to keep reading.
     Because the problem isn’t that Walmart revealed how poor its customers really are, it’s that Walmart revealed how poor U.S. shoppers really are.

     The hook here, the news peg, is that Walmart released its annual report and in it, there’s a specific paragraph that states:

Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control … These factors include … changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplement[al] Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans, …

The implications are that Walmart preys on poor people, that the retailer has somehow created poor people by paying low wages. That it relies on government assistance in a way that goes beyond accepting payment from shoppers via government programs. According to Business Insider:

Walmart, for the first time in its annual reports, acknowledges that taxpayer-funded social assistance programs are a significant factor in its revenue and profits. This makes sense, considering that Walmart caters to low-income consumers. But what’s news here is that the company now considers the level of social entitlements given to low-income working and unemployed Americans important enough to underscore it in its cautionary statement.

Not quite.
     It’s not the first time Walmart noted that a reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would hurt business. It may have been the first time that was mentioned in an annual report, but that’s because the reduction took effect during the fiscal year in question.
     In November, benefits for a family of four were be reduced by $36 a month. Benefits had been increased as part of the Recovery Act in 2009, but Congress allowed the increase to expire on Nov. 1.
     An estimated 48 million Americans benefit from SNAP while roughly 80 percent of U.S. consumers shop at Walmart at some point during the year.
     Not all of them use SNAP, but the majority have some kind of budgetary constraint and it’s a number that keeps growing. Ten years ago, roughly 50% of Walmart shoppers cited low prices as the most important reason to shop at Walmart, today that number is 75%, said Andy Murray, Walmart senior vice president creative, speaking at the Shopper Marketing Summit this week.
     Walmart shoppers are particularly sensitive to fluctuations in the price of gas, to small tax increases or to anything that adds another $20 burden to a household in any given week. Budgets are tight and getting tighter all the time, in spite of a slowly recovering economy.
     Walmart is hardly the only retailer to be effected by a reduction in SNAP benefits, or to say so in financial documents. The dollar store segment is also vulnerable. Roughly $4 billion in SNAP benefits was vaporized, money that was once spent at U.S. stores, not just Walmart. This was bad news for shoppers and retailers, across multiple channels.
     As one grocery executive said on an online retail forum regarding the issue, “This cut hurts all of our sales, not just Walmart, let me make that clear. The struggle is universal for retailers, and sales are down around 8-10% since the first of the year.”
     I’m not a fan of criticizing other reporters or publications, but these headlines are designed to get clicks, to be shared, to fan the flames of outrage. In this case, it’s a false and very misplaced outrage.
     Walmart didn’t just reveal how poor its customers really are, it revealed just how poor so many U.S. shoppers are.

Best Government Money Can Buy

Recently, a new meme has been making its way around the conservative blogosphere and has been picked up by those in the mainstream media. Basically, conservatives are trying to push the story that the Koch brothers are not overly influential on the political process and that labor unions spend far more in campaign contribuions and donations to political organizations than the reclusive billionaires. They’ve used data from the Center for Responsive Politics to make their case for them.

The fact is, that the CRP only shows disclosed and direct campaign contributions made by organizations, companies and individuals. On that level, the Kochs only show up as #59 overall for the past 25 years and contributed a total of $4.9 million in the previous election cycle. However, when you take into account all of the ‘dark’ money that the Kochs spent during the 2012 election, that figure
balloons to a whopping $412 million. In comparison, the top ten labor unions combined spent a total of $153 million when counting all political contributions.

It ain’t over till it’s over

                               State’s UPS workers in contract fight

UPS Inc. workers in Pennsylvania are in a contract dispute with the national package shipping company, and union officials say they may push the Teamsters to strike if the company doesn’t address their concerns about health benefits.

Citing changes to health plans that would force UPS employees to shoulder more expense, unions in Philadelphia, Western Pennsylvania and Louisville, Ky., have refused to accept separate contracts covering workplace rules, wages and benefits.

UPS said it continues to make progress with the Teamsters and expects to resolve the issue.

“It remains business as usual,” UPS spokesman Dan McMackin said in an email. “We remain confident that the local contracts will be finalized.”

Everyone hopes to avoid shutting down a facility because of a walkout, said Gary Piso, UPS alternate steward of Teamsters Local 249, but that option remains if UPS refuses to continue health benefits at the current level.

“Nobody wants a strike,” Piso said. “If it’s necessary, there are a lot of people willing to go that route. That’s the one muscle we have.”

The situation has not affected operations, though it delayed wage increases for employees. Until a five-year agreement goes into effect, UPS employees are covered under the old contract, which was extended indefinitely upon its July 31 expiration.

A national master contract covering 240,000 full- and part-time UPS employees was approved in June. But before that can take effect, union members must approve region-specific supplemental contracts.

They have approved all but three of the 28 supplements. Ohio union members approved their supplemental agreement on Wednesday, but the contracts covering nearly 12,000 workers in Western Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Louisville remain unapproved.

Louisville is an air-shipping hub for the company and critical to UPS operations. Ballots were mailed to the 7,000 union employees, and the vote will be counted on April 10, said Fred Zuckerman, president of Louisville Local 89.

Nearly 90 percent of Louisville union members rejected the contract in October, and Zuckerman said they probably would defeat it again.

“It’s going to go down big,” he said. “Everybody knows it.”

The holdout caused some tension between local unions and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The national organization wants the Pennsylvania and Louisville workers to sign off on the contracts, saying that UPS employees still would enjoy better benefits than most Americans.

“This is excellent health care coverage,” said Leigh Strope, an international Teamsters spokeswoman. “At a time when most Americans are worried about health care, this provides certainty.”

Chris Fleisher is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or

The Right to Protest

                                                                What Brown Can Do TO You: 

                         UPS Fires 250 Drivers For Protesting Colleague’s Termination

February 26, 250 United Parcel service drivers organized a protest against a former colleague’s firing. Workers at the UPS facility in Maspeth, NY walked off the job last month to voice their disapproval with the termination of Jairo Reyes, a 24 veteran of the company for allegedly clocking in early.

Workers say that the company’s abrupt termination of Reyes. without due process is in violation of the “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” clause in workers’ contracts.

After making their voices heard for 90 minutes, the employees returned to work and did their jobs.

“They delivered their message, then they delivered the packages,” a union source told the Queens Tribune.

UPS says that the firings were justified. “The employees in question abandoned their jobs and staged a protest after encouragement from the local union official, who chose to pre-empt the grievance procedure and organize a walk-out, rather than allowing a dispute to be resolved through mutually agreed upon contractual provisions,” the company said in a statement.

The union maintains that the mass firing was in violation of the contract between the union and the company, and is fighting for the jobs of all 250 workers.

A petition started by the Working Families Party has accumulated over 45,000 signatures to date.

“The tens of thousands of signatures on our petition reflect the strong disapproval of UPS’s underhanded tactics,” Bill Lipton, State Director for the Working Families Party, said in a statement.

UPS driver information