Union Pension Benefits Upheld

construction worker covered in dirtIn an interesting case the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court held that union pension benefits were not subject to a credit on behalf of the employer.

The Petitioner was a journeyman electrician who fell at work and injured his left shoulder. He underwent surgery and was unable to return to work as an electrician.

He sought other work through a vocational specialist and eventually found a job driving a schol bus. That job paid him $12.50 per hour for 20 hours per week–substantially less than the $37.80 per hour he would have received as an electrician. The claimant testified that, upon his reaching the age of 62 on May 27, 2008, he would be entitled to pension retirement benefits that are payable regardless of any disability. He testified that he was going to work until he was 65 years old but due to the injury he put in for his pension starting in May of 2008.

The employer claimed that it was entitled to a credit on its workers’ compensation payments to the Petitioner for the pension benefits paid.

At the Industrial Commission trial, the Arbitrator denied the employers’ claim for a credit of the pension benefits.

The employer appealed the decision and the Industrial Commission reversed the Arbitrator allowing the employer the sought after credit.

The Petitioner filed an appeal with the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Circuit Court found, among other things, that the employer was not allowed to take a credit from the Petitioner’s pension benefits. Again, the employer filed an appeal to the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court reviewed several cases regarding this issue that had been previously decided. In Tee-Pak v. Industrial Commission, the claimant argued that the Commission had erred in allowing the employer a credit for money paid to him under “a benefit program which ensure[d] a full salary to ***employees who are off work due to an accident or illness.” Tee-Pak, 141 Ill. App. 3d at 522. In reversing the Commission’s decision, this court cited section 8(j) generally for the proposition that “[u]nder the Act, the employer receives no credit for benefits which would have been paid irrespective of the occurrence of a workers’ compensation accident.” Tee-Pak, Inc. v.
Industrial Comm’n, 141 Ill. App. 3d 520, 490 N.E.2d 170 (1986).

The Appellate Court did not allow the employer to take any credit against the Petitioner’s pension benefits.

Also, the Appellate Court discussed the wage differential aspect of this case citing the requirements for a wage differential noting that to qualify for a wage differential award, a claimant must prove (1) a partial incapacity that prevents him from pursuing his usual and customary line of employment and (2) an impairment of earnings.

The Court re-affirmed the position that a claimant’s voluntary decision to remove himself from the work force does not preclude a wage differential award. Copperweld Tubing Products Co. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 402 Ill. App. 3d 630, 634, 931 N.E.2d 762 (2010). Simply put, even though the Petitioner in this case retired from the work force he was not barred from proceeding to prove a wage differential for his loss of earnings.

The important lessons to be learned form this case are that pension benefits are not subject to credits on behalf of the employer and that a voluntary retirement from the work force will not preclude a claim for a wage differential award.