Alcoa, Blount County (WVLT) - A federal court in East Tennessee could help settle one of the more critical labor questions of this new century: if your company makes promises when you retire, are they good for life?
Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd has the details of what has become a mass-action lawsuit against Alcoa, from more than 2,000 union retirees and their spouses in 13 states.
Mass action, in that each claim is unique.
It could cover every Alcoa union worker who retired from Alcoa in the 13 years before the newest union contract took effect in July.
"This is what breaks my heart. That there's people with cancers and stuff that can't afford their medicine," Melvin Bridges help broker fellow disputes in his 32 years with Alcoa.
But he and fellow retirees can't quite believe the Steelworkers' new union contract will force them to pay for health benefits they say Alcoa's always covered.
"I feel like the company hasn't kept their word," says retiree Ernie Kemper.
Come January first, retirees say they'll have to pay 40 bucks a month premiums for themselves, and another 40 if their spouses are eligible for Medicare.
75 bucks in they're not.
Factor in larger deductibles, higher co-payments.
"It was gonna be over $4,000 just on my prescription medicine co-pays," says Bridges.
"The surviving spouses draw half the retirees pensions, and with the increased medical premiums and costs, it'll take that pension and more," says Kemper.
"Who's in the better position of having to buy that or pay for that? We say, it's the company," says Greg Coleman, attorney for the retirees.
The retirees' lawsuit claims the pension changes violate their vested rights and Alcoa's fiduciary duties, because health benefits can't be changed without their permission, that their union contracts guaranteed these health benefits, and that federal courts are their last and only resort for keeping them.
"There's precedent for what they're doing, but there's precedent for what we're doing," says Coleman.
Which, their lawyers say, the results will reverb far beyond Alcoa's retirees, and its current workforce.
"Trust in the Lord and he's gonna take care of us, whether we win or lose," Kemper says.
The first lawsuits were filed last month, and amended Thursday, with more retirees and spouses joining.
Alcoa has not been served, formally, so it's not commenting, yet.
The retirees are asking for a court order to keep the changes from taking effect.
The timing will make that impossible, so they want Alcoa to reimburse them for whatever they pay out, while the case is in court.