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It's time to retire utilities' 'bulletproof' pension system

There's nothing unusual about Southern California Edison's request for a 7.5% rate hike, partly to cover its pension fund losses. But at a time when few people have guaranteed retirement benefits, why can't utility workers share the pain?

January 18, 2011|David Lazarus

Gil Alexander, an Edison spokesman, said the company's overall compensation is "slightly less than the market average" of what similar companies offer, according to the human resources company Aon Hewitt. As such, he said the pension plan offers value to both workers and ratepayers.

"We have to attract and retain people to keep the lights on," Alexander said. "This is one part of how we do it."

Still, times change. Why can't utility workers face the same harsh reality the rest of us have: that guaranteed pensions just don't pencil out over the long haul, and that 401(k)s offer a reasonable (albeit nowhere-near-as-generous) alternative for retirement planning?

I know a lot of utility workers, and I know they won't be happy with such a suggestion. But workers in industries that don't have the luxury of passing the pension hat among ratepayers have learned to adapt.

Utility workers can too.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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