SOUTH BEND — As Honeywell workers were getting off their shift at 3:30 Thursday afternoon, retirees, labor activists, political candidates and others were rallying outside the factory’s main gate.
“Shame on Honeywell,” shouted Donna Hall, a widow whose husband worked at Honeywell for 30 years. “He upheld his promise … Uphold yours!”
A group assembled on the sidewalk to circulate a petition to President Donald Trump, requesting his intervention against Honeywell’s planned decision to cut health care benefits on July 31 for more than 4,700 retirees after a court ruling in Michigan paved the way for the company to scrap retiree benefits.
But the group rallying outside the plant, which swelled as employees coming off their shift joined, was also protesting Honeywell’s plan to outsource 20 jobs that produce parts for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a manufacturer in Turkey.
“Back in early February, I was informed by the plant manager that work was going to be farmed out to Turkey,” said John Suher, president of United Auto Workers Local 9. “And that none of this work will be coming back.
“This is a disgrace.”
But the company, which reported sales increases and “very strong” first quarter earnings this year, hasn’t budged on either the retiree benefit issue or planned outsourcing.
The rally included speeches from Indiana 2nd Congressional District candidate Mel Hall and St. Joseph County Council candidate Joe Canarecci, who said they stood in solidarity with the workers and would take measures to oppose retiree health care cuts and outsourcing.
Clark Reiter, who retired in 2002, said the attitude the company has toward its workers and retirees is vastly different than when his wife was dealing with health issues beginning in 1976.
“My wife, Emily, went into kidney failure and was on home dialysis for three and a half years,” Reiter said. “They let me go anytime I needed to leave early.”
In 1980, Reiter filed for vacation time to take Emily to Minnesota for a long-awaited kidney transplant. When he was getting ready to leave, Bendix CEO Ted Moore was waiting at the door.
“He said ‘I canceled your vacation. While you’re gone, I’ll pay you every hour. and you and Emily will take a two-week vacation,’” Reiter said, recounting what Moore told him. “And he took me to the back of the plant, where they had the whole division, and they gave me a card with $1,500.”
“That’s what the company used to be like,” said Reiter.
Now, Reiter said he’s one of the retirees who will lose coverage a month from now.
Tom Zmyslo, the Local 9 retiree representative, said the judge in Eastern Michigan U.S. District Court plans to issue a written opinion in the near future about the ongoing dispute between the retirees and the company.
“This is an assault on the working and retired people of this country,” Zmyslo said. “This is not making America great.”