SOUTH BEND — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, at a campaign event here Thursday, strongly condemned Honeywell Aerospace for its recent moves to eliminate retirees’ health care and move some production from the city to Turkey.
“This is a company, Honeywell, that is having some of the highest profits in the history of their company,” Donnelly, D-Ind., told reporters at UAW Local 9, the union for Bendix, Allied Signal and Honeywell workers. “The chairman made $20 million last year. The CEO made $16 million last year. (Republican Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell’s tax bill dramatically increased earnings for the company. It allowed them to bring back $7 billion that was overseas. They’re doing stock buybacks as well. So at a time of extraordinarily high profits, there was no reason to do this.”
Honeywell has cited a March 29 order by a federal judge in Michigan as its authorization for ending health care coverage for about 4,700 company retirees. In a statement he emailed to The Tribune Thursday, Honeywell spokesman Scott Sayres said the company’s obligation to provide retirees health care ended two years ago when the current UAW contract expired.
Active UAW Honeywell members have said management told them it would not discuss retiree health care during negotiations on the current contract.
Sayres said it could have ended the retiree benefit immediately but opted instead to give retirees four months’ advance notice so they could find other coverage.
“The bottom line is these UAW retirees have kept health care coverage longer than most other retired Honeywell employees — and more than two years past the expiration of the last labor contract that provided for retiree medical benefits,” Sayres said. “In addition, the vast majority of these retirees now have comparable or better coverage available to them at lower cost through private insurance policies outside of Honeywell.”
Donnelly said he and his staff have had “numerous meetings” with Honeywell executives about the issue and continue to do so.
“I’ve told Honeywell that in every way, shape or form, this is an improper decision, a wrong decision, a shameful decision, and that I’ll use every power of my office to try and turn this around,” he said. “Much of their business flows through this country’s government, and they need to make the kinds of decisions that take care of this country’s people. Promises that they made are promises they need to keep.”
Donnelly said Congress might not be able to help the retirees, leaving the courts as their only potential option. But he said lawmakers can address the outsourcing.
At a rally outside the plant Friday, retirees and active workers protested the health care elimination and the company’s plan to later this year outsource 20 jobs that produce parts for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a manufacturer in Turkey.
Donnelly in January 2017 introduced his End Outsourcing Act, which would take away tax breaks and incentives from federal contractors who move jobs to other countries, and create new tax incentives for companies that relocate foreign jobs to rural and impoverished communities in the United States.
The bill has failed to receive a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. In September he offered similar language as an amendment to the defense spending bill, and in late May it cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which Donnelly serves, nearly unanimously, he said. The full Senate approved it last month.
The amendment would require the Department of Defense to examine the F-35 supply chain and identify potential vulnerabilities of parts manufactured abroad, according to a statement from Donnelly’s office.
Donnelly said it is a “national security risk” for Honeywell to outsource parts for complex braking systems to Turkey, a country that just bought missile defense systems from Russia and, “almost every day, is in conflict with our own country.”
“I’ve told Honeywell that you have so many defense contracts, you work so much with this country, these people’s tax dollars pay for the equipment that Honeywell makes,” he said. “We need Honeywell to understand their very strong ties to these retirees.”
Donnelly spoke with reporters at the union hall after meeting with its retirees, as part of a “Seniors For Joe” campaign event. Democrat Mel Hall, running against Republican incumbent 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski in November, also attended and told the retirees they have his support in the health care dispute.