Streater retirees upset over health coverage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Masaaki Harada, Tribune staff writer

A letter from the company informing former Streater employees of the termination of their health-care coverage has been overwhelming retirees with anxiety and uncertainty.

Out of the blue, at least 56 retirees lost their insurance coverage, many of whom would not be able to afford alternative plans. The union wants a negotiation with the company, but the management side says the termination was a part of an agreement they made with the union.

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According to Midwestern Industrial Council Business Representative Don Kern, parent body of Carpenters Union Local 766, the company terminated the coverage after the renewal of a three-year union contract in June.

&uot;We had not been informed about the decision. If we had known it, we would have sat down and talked about it,&uot; Kern said.

But the company considers the termination to be a result of a provision in the union contract that abolished the company health-care plan for union workers. The union, instead, agreed to launch its own insurance plan to cover them, according to the contract.

General Manager Thomas Stensrude understands the new contract transferred not only the workers but also retirees.

&uot;The retired people are now part of the bargaining unit plan. And the company has no influence on it,&uot; he said. &uot;It was the union’s request. They’re no longer in the company insurance. And it was the union’s request. The retirees have to talk with the union, not with the company.&uot;

Kern does not agree with Stensrude’s interpretation.

The contract was between the retirees and company and not a part of a collective bargaining agreement, he said. &uot;We never discussed the retirees’ coverage in the union contract negotiation. It is a different contract. And the company just took it away.&uot;

The union accepted a one-year wage freeze in the new contract, along with health-care takeover provision. &uot;We tried to help the company stabilize,&uot; Kern emphasized.

Streater, the largest manufacturer in the city with more than 400 employees, produces store fixtures. Union workers in Albert Lea number 365. In April 2000, the company became part of Marmon Retail Services.

During a meeting held at the Union Center Monday, the union identified 56 retirees. Of them, 33 are older than 65 and not eligible for the new union health plan. Even those under 65 need to pay significantly higher premiums, according to the union.