Truly appalling trend, as described in today’s Wall Street Journal:
When a deputy sheriff came to his door with a court summons, George Kneifel, a retiree in Union Mills, Ind., was mystified. His former employer was suing him.
The employer, beverage-can maker Rexam Inc., had agreed in labor contracts to provide retirees with health-care coverage. But now the company was asking a federal judge to rule that it could reduce or eliminate the benefit.
Many companies have already cut back company-paid health-care coverage for retirees from their salaried staffs. But until recently, employers generally were barred from touching unionized retirees’ benefits because they are spelled out in labor contracts. Now, some are taking aggressive steps to pare those benefits as well, including going to court.
In the past two years, employers have sued union retirees across the country. In the suits, they ask judges to rule that no matter what labor contracts say, they have a right to change the benefits. Some companies also argue that contract references to “lifetime” coverage don’t mean the lifetime of the retirees, but the life of the labor contract. Since the contracts expired many years ago, the promises, they say, have expired too.