Setback for steelworkers

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A group of retired workers from Freightcar America say they are still exploring all legal options as they challenge a health care settlement.

The men from Johnstown say a majority of retirees do not the health benefit package put together by the United Steelworkers. They say it is not a fair deal and is more expensive than plans some are currently enrolled in.

On Thursday, the workers filed a request to extend the appeals process giving them more time to obtain legal counsel.  On Monday, a federal judge denied that request.

The United Steelworkers Union (USW) told WTAJ News that enrollment packets were sent out in the mail and the workers will see that they are getting an affordable health care plan.

In a statement to WTAJ News, attorney Joe Stuligross wrote:

“What a tragedy that a victory for Freightcar retirees in their battle for reinstated healthcare benefits is being criticized by a group of disgruntled retirees. Individuals have a right to object to the Union’s actions, but where their disagreement contains falsehoods, they should be corrected.”

One retiree said not only is the plan unaffordable for some, it excludes their spouses.

Stuligross replied, “Spouses do not receive nothing… instead they have a full right to sign up for coverage with the same premium subsidy that a retire would have.  The coverage provides substantial subsidies for coverage to both pre-Medicare and Medicare-eligible retirees. For pre-Medicare coverage, retirees would save up to $750 per month compared to publicly available coverage.  For Medicare-eligible retirees, the comprehensive coverage worth $143 is available for only $43 per month.”

In 2008, Freightcar America closed its plant in Johnstown but they promised to provide health benefits for life. In 2013, the company reopened that contract and took away all healthcare.  In August, Freightcar settled out of court and agreed to put $32 million dollars towards health care.  Before that settlement, many workers said they found their own health plan that better suits them.   Those workers say this settlement should not be one-size-fits-all.  Instead they would like to discuss other options with the union, including using a portion of that settlement to reimburse them to cover the health plan they are already paying for.

The USW stated it has heard all concerns, but the judge’s ruling is final. 

The Freightcar retirees are inviting all former workers and their spouses to a meeting on Tuesday at Ace’s Lounge in Johnstown to discuss what options they have left.  Those meetings are scheduled for Noon and 4PM.

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