Construction companies with union employees often must make contributions to a defined benefit pension plan sponsored by the union. These plans are called “multiemployer” pension plans.
As a general rule, multiemployer plans are not well-funded. In 2015, for example, a federal study showed that 98.3 percent of multiemployer plans were underfunded. Collectively, that underfunding surpassed $560 billion. And nearly 40 percent of multiemployer plans are in the construction industry.
Businesses with a large number of union employees can often feel trapped in union-sponsored pension plans. This is because “withdrawal liability” — i.e., the employer’s share of an underfunded multiemployer pension plan’s liabilities — can be huge, easily in the tens of millions of dollars. However, as explained below, there is an exemption that employers in the building and construction industry can rely on to avoid withdrawal liability.