By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump ordered a review of decade-old pension cuts to some retirees at a former General Motors <GM.N> auto parts unit, the White House said on Thursday, 12 days before the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election.
In a memo released by the White House, Trump ordered the heads of the Treasury, Commerce and Labor departments to address cuts to non-union retiree pension payments within 90 days at Delphi Corp after the pension plan was turned over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp (PBGC) in 2009.
The cuts affected about 20,000 salaried retirees, including about 5,000 in Ohio, a battleground state that could help decide an election pitting the Republican Trump against Democrat Joe Biden, the former vice president under President Barack Obama.
The memo stops short of any specific plan to restore the pension cuts of Delphi salaried retirees, who experienced reductions of up to 70%.
The intense interest in an obscure pension issue suggested how close the race for president has become.
Trump tweeted he would "make sure that we protect the pensions of all American workers!" and added "Obama-Biden FAILED American workers and FAILED the workers of Delphi."
Michael Gwin, a spokesman for Biden, dismissed Trump's memo, saying "if Trump did care about Delphi retirees, he wouldn't have wasted four years failing to act to protect their pensions, only to make a half-hearted promise to look into a solution just days before an election."
Biden, he added, "will take action to help Delphi retirees, protect workers' pensions, and get real, structural multi-employer pension reform done."
Delphi was spun off by GM in 1999.
As part of the 2009 $50 billion government auto bailout of GM during the Obama administration, the automaker agreed to assume the liabilities from hourly Delphi employees but the pensions of salaried workers were turned over to the PBGC.
A 2013 government report said the Obama auto task force was heavily involved in the Delphi GM pension decisions.
In September, a U.S. appeals court rejected a lawsuit by Delphi salaried retirees over the PBGC termination of the pension plan, saying there was ample evidence that GM was unwilling to assume the salaried plan’s liabilities.
Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, praised Trump's action and said the salaried retirees got "a raw deal from the Obama administration. They deserve to have their pensions restored."
Trump's memo also directs a broader review of the pension plans presently held in trusteeship by the PBGC within 180 days.
The PBGC in November reported a record deficit of $65.2 billion in its multiemployer insurance program. The program insures the pensions of 10.8 million Americans.
In 2018, Delphi spun off its powertrain business into a new company called Delphi Technologies, which this month was acquired by BorgWarner Inc <BWA.N>. Delphi's automotive technology business was renamed Aptiv in 2017.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Diane Craft and Howard Goller)