Mary Petti worked for 35 years at a community hospital in Orange, N.J., earning a pension with a government guarantee. But now the hospital has closed, money is leaking out of the plan, and Ms. Petti fears the funds will be exhausted by the time she plans to retire in five years. The government guarantee has vanished as well.
Her plight illustrates a little-known aspect of pension law, which allows churches and organizations affiliated with them to escape the costly and complicated rules that apply to secular employers.
Tens of thousands of people work for organizations that have opted out of the law, as Ms. Petti's did. Most do not know that they are exposed to potential losses with little parallel in the corporate world.
For Ms. Petti and her fellow workers, their retirements were put at risk shortly before the hospital failed, when it exempted itself from federal pension law, citing an agreement it had made with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark.
"I felt that my pension was safe," said Ms. Petti, 60, who worked her way up from nurse to vice president for patient care services in her years at the Hospital Center at Orange. About 950 people participate in the pension plan; together they stand to lose about $10 million, according to one actuarial estimate.
Many of the employees now say they believe that the hospital used its ties to the archdiocese as a tool, Ms. Petti said, "to get out from under the pension obligations."
So the faith-based workplace turns out to be no better than the Church of Enron. Participating in your pension plan means losing all your money.
Faith is for suckers. That's why we have the rule of law and the discoveries of science, two enemies of today's Republican party and their religio-corporate conspirators.