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Question: What is a multi-employer plan?

Answer: According to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation:

A multi-employer plan is a collectively bargained plan maintained by more than one employer, usually within the same or related industries, and a labor union. These plans are often referred to as “Taft-Hartley plans.”

Most plans are jointly administered and governed by a board of trustees, with labor and management equally represented. The members of the board of trustees of a multi-employer plan are either elected or appointed to their positions.

In a multi-employer plan, the board of trustees typically makes decisions about what plan benefits will be. The bargaining parties negotiate a contribution rate and the trustees translate that rate into a benefit. Decisions to increase benefits or change the plan are also typically made by the board of trustees.

Multi-employer plans are subject to many of the vesting, accrual, and minimum participation rules that apply to single-employer plans. However, there are differences in plan design. Most multi-employer plans are “unit benefit” plans that offer a specified dollar-amount benefit per month multiplied by years of credited service. (Some plans offer a choice of enhanced benefits to employees whose employers agree to pay higher contributions.)

In multi-employer plans, the amount of the employer’s contribution is set by a collective bargaining agreement that specifies a contribution formula (such as $3 per hour worked by each employee covered by the agreement) and further provides that contributions must be paid to the plan on a monthly basis. If an employer is delinquent, ERISA § 502(g) permits the plan to sue and obtain the delinquency, plus interest, liquidated damages and its attorney fees. This is a major difference between single and multi-employer plans.