# Whirlpool

Yet another failure of employer-based health insurance

If you’ve been on the job market in the last decade or two, you may know how hard it is to find a job with good benefits.

A lesser-known fact of life in this country is that even if you think your employer provides great health care coverage, you could get shafted later. nyceve has written a book’s worth of diaries about “Murder by Spreadsheet,” when for-profit insurance companies find excuses to refuse to cover needed medical care.

Insurance companies are not always to blame, however. Corporations looking to cut costs sometimes yank promised health benefits from retirees who put in many years of work and in some cases gave up pay raises in exchange for better benefits packages.

The makers of John Deere machinery have provided the latest example of this travesty. In response, some 5,000 former employees of Deere & Co. filed a class action lawsuit this week

demanding that company officials reset the clock to 2007 and restore health benefits that court papers say were drastically cut back this year.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Des Moines, alleges Moline, Ill.-based Deere broke longtime promises to its employees when the company on Jan. 1 “eliminated, reduced and dramatically altered” benefits pledged under retiree health plans.


Court papers say the company for more than 15 years promised lifetime health benefits to employees who vested in Deere & Co. pension plans, and Deere can’t now back out of that deal.

In July about 3,000 retired former Maytag employees learned that Whirlpool, which bought Maytag in 2005, is trying to reduce their health benefits as well.

The Des Moines Register reported today that officials from Iowa’s Senior Health Insurance Information Program have scheduled meetings in Newton on September 17 “to warn Maytag retirees about upcoming choices and deadlines in the wake of a decision by Whirlpool to reduce their health benefits.” Maytag retirees have filed a class-action suit in Michigan claiming that Whirlpool must honor Maytag’s contracts that promised “vested lifetime retiree health care benefits.” That lawsuit is pending, as is a separate case filed by Whirlpool, seeking to impose the benefit changes on Maytag retirees.

Speaking of our screwed-up health care system, today nyceve posted a wonderful diary contrasting a video of John McCain saying, “Like Most Americans, I go see my doctor fairly frequently” with footage of Joe Biden talking about health care on the stump. Click through, these videos are worth your time.

It’s no surprise that McCain is out of touch with the realities of health care in this country. After all, one of the authors of McCain’s health “reform” proposal thinks there are no uninsured Americans as long as sick people can go to the emergency room.  

Continue Reading...

On Labor Day, remember why unions are good for workers

MissLaura put up this front-page post at Daily Kos today about why unions matter. She linked to Change to Win, which has all kinds of useful statistics on its website. Click the link to find charts illustrating that “Union Workers Earn More,” “Union Members Have Better Benefits,” “Union Members Pay Less for Health Coverage,” and so on.

If Barack Obama becomes president, I hope he will follow through on promises to make it easier for workers to organize in this country. Replacing some of the corporate hacks George Bush has put on the National Labor Relations Board would be a step in the right direction. The Bush administration has used the NLRB to carry out a “systematic assault on workers’ rights.”

In the good news column, Shai Sachs reported in this post at MyDD that union membership appears to be slowly inching up, reversing a long decline.

But remember, just being in a union doesn’t guarantee that a worker will receive promised benefits. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Maytag retirees are probably going to lose health benefits guaranteed in their last contract. On the other hand, if they hadn’t been in a union, it’s a good bet they never would have had those benefits to begin with.

Another failure of employer-based health insurance

If you were negotiating an employment agreement, you might consider taking an outstanding benefits package in exchange for a lower starting salary or a wage freeze. How would you feel if many years later, in retirement, some of those benefits were taken away from you?

About 3,000 former Maytag workers and family members have received letters from Whirlpool this week informing them that they are about to get cheated. Here’s the background:

Whirlpool Corp. has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to cut the medical benefits of thousands of retired Maytag workers.

The lawsuit, dated July 24 and filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines as a class action complaint, names the international and local chapters of the United Auto Workers union and three retired Maytag workers as representatives of the class. […]

Whirlpool bought rival Maytag in 2006 for $1.7 billion and assumed the negotiated union contracts and related benefit plans. […]

Whirlpool said in the lawsuit that a contract negotiated between the union and Maytag in 2004 expires on July 31. Whirlpool said it plans to change the retiree medical benefits on Jan. 1, 2009, to bring the benefits in line with the same plan that more than 10,000 current employees, retirees and their dependents have.

I hope that Whirlpool’s lawsuit will fail, but unfortunately, the federal bench is so full of Republican-appointed judges that I don’t expect much in the way of protection for union members.

Barack Obama released this statement today in connection with the controversy:

Des Moines, Iowa – Below is a statement from Senator Barack Obama on the letter Whirlpool sent to Maytag union retirees this week about changes in their health benefits.

“In America, we believe that if you work hard, you should be able to build a better life for yourself and your family.  But today, this American dream is slipping out of reach for too many working Americans. Whirlpool’s decision to cut the health care benefits of 2,200 Maytag retirees is the latest sign that we need to change the broken system in Washington.  

“It’s not right that Maytag’s CEO walked away with a multi-million dollar buyout while the hardworking men and women who built the company lost their jobs and are now facing health care cuts. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Maytag workers in Newton, and I know they negotiated those benefits in good faith, giving up pay increases and other benefits.  Now it is time for Whirlpool to show good faith to their former employees.  

“As President, I will fight for our workers every day because when our workers do well, America does well.  In the Senate, I’ve fought to protect pensions, and I will continue that fight in the White House.  I will make sure our workers get the fair wages, affordable health care, and secure retirement that they deserve.  And I’ll change our tax code so it rewards companies that create jobs here in the United States instead of companies that ship jobs overseas. I’ll be a President who looks out for Main Street, not just Wall Street and who fights to put the American Dream within reach for every American.”

I certainly hope Obama will work to strengthen labor unions and workers’ rights in this country if he gets elected.

But ultimately, Whirlpool’s action is yet another indictment of our health care system. Even Americans who have good employer-based health insurance can get screwed.

To get more informed about the failures of our current health care system and the benefits of moving to a single-payer “Medicare for all” model, read nyceve’s diaries at Daily Kos or the Guaranteed Healthcare group blog.

At Guaranteed Healthcare, you can also find a list of Democratic candidates for Congress who have endorsed HR 676, which would establish a single-payer health care system.

Continue Reading...