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Monday, September 11th, 2006

Goodyear retirees fight benefit cuts

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - "Give us what we paid for" is the rallying cry from Goodyear retirees as current contract negotiations raise concerns.
The three-year contract between U.S. Steelworkers and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ended last April and proposed benefit cuts have retirees worried.
Rick Niekamp, United Steel Workers Local 200L vice president, said the contract negotiated three years ago was tied to profit.
"We did some really good work making profits happen. Now the company is throwing (into the current negotiations) a lot of things that will hurt our retirees," Niekamp told The Daily Standard recently.
Retirees Jim Clark, Tom Dingledine and Ken Grimm can boast more than a century of service among them to the local Goodyear plant. Last week, they spoke with the newspaper explaining how proposed benefits cuts could translate to real life.
In a nutshell, the pension rate is fixed and benefit expenses aren't. If insurance premiums and co-pays increase as is being discussed, retirees' incomes will obviously be reduced in order to pay more for benefits.
Co-pays now are $15, $25 and $50 depending on the category of prescriptions/services. The company wants to increase those co-pays and insurance premiums.
Monthly premiums could go from the current $31 to as much as $160, according to Grimm. Nothing has been agreed upon at this point. The $160 figure comes from the pattern contract set earlier this year by B.F. Goodrich with its union employees. Goodyear may or may not follow that lead.
United Steelworkers spokesmen have said they made enough concessions three years ago and want benefits to remain as negotiated in 2003.  
"It's not like our benefits are a company gift. Over the years, we opted to purchase retirement benefits instead of hourly wage increases," said Grimm, who retired in 2001. "So we've already paid for retirement benefits ourselves."
While the issue of retirees' benefits is supported by current Goodyear employees, federal law prohibits either side from making those issues part of a strike.
"Our pensions are locked in when we walk out the door (for retirement)," said Clark, a 2002 retiree.
At the time of retirement, he continued, the company is very thorough in explaining to the employee and his/her spouse exactly what the benefits will be.
"The employee will have benefits the rest of his life, and, if he dies, his wife, or husband for female retirees, will have benefits for the rest of her life unless she remarries," Clark said.
Dingledine, who retired in 1988, said when he started at Goodyear in 1947 at the hourly rate of 75 cents there was no possibility of insurance of any kind.
"A group of us employees got together and went into a Blue Cross/Blue Shield program on our own," he said.
Grimm pointed out that in the early 1970s Goodyear's CEO was making $350,000. "Look what that position makes now and it's the employees who made it possible," he said.
What's coming is anyone's guess as contract talks continue between the Steelworkers and the company. But Dingledine's hunch is "we're somehow going to lose."
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