South Bend Tribune: Options might be running out for Honeywell retirees

SOUTH BEND — Retired hourly employees from Honeywell International might be out of options when it comes to the company paying for their health-care coverage starting Aug. 1.

But the union representing the Honeywell retirees said Thursday they plan to continue the fight.

Judge Denise Page Hood of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled Wednesday against the latest case filed by the United Auto Workers on behalf of workers who retired after 2003, according to Bloomberg News.

Several months ago, she ruled that those who retired before 2003 weren’t entitled to lifetime health-care coverage.

The retirees weren’t guaranteed lifetime coverage because the collective bargaining agreements and other documents did not include a promise to provide the coverage, the judge ruled.

The retiree situation, however, is not over, according to local union members, politicians and Honeywell retirees speaking at a news conference Thursday outside the Honeywell facility on Westmoor Street.

“It’s a sad day, how far we have been pushed down,” Tom Zmyslo, chair of the United Auto Workers Local 9 retirees, said. “It’s really hard, especially for a lot of the workers up in age that have no way of navigating how to go out and buy insurance in this economy today.”

Speakers decried Honeywell’s “broken promises,” saying that while contract language may be in its favor related to the retiree health insurance issue, the workers who built the business should be treated better.

“The workers of Honeywell … gave their heart and soul to this company. They kept up their end of the bargain. They, too, made a promise,” said Mel Hall, Democratic candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski. “They promised they would show up. They promised to deliver and they were held accountable for what they got done every day… and promises were broken. That’s not what we do in Indiana.”

For the past two years, Honeywell has been involved in a series of lawsuits by retirees from various facilities across the country challenging these cuts.

Retirees went to South Bend City Council on Monday asking for help in the battle for health-care coverage.

“This is not over,” Hall said. “This is not the funeral today. This can change. We stand with workers. We stand for justice. We stand for keeping your promises. That’s what we do in America. That’s what we do in Indiana. That’s what we do in the Second District and in South Bend. We will keep on fighting and we will win.

Honeywell issued a prepared statement on the ruling, saying the judge reaffirmed the company’s position. It also restated that it provided health coverage for the two years the case made its way through the courts.

“As a result of the District Court ruling, Honeywell could have terminated the retirees’ health care coverage immediately, but decided instead to provide retirees with four months’ advance notice so they could investigate and enroll in alternative coverage,” the statement said.

Honeywell also claimed in its the “vast majority” of retirees have comparable or better coverage available to them at a lower cost through private insurance policies outside of Honeywell.

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