Photo: KSTP/Chris Knoll
Photo: KSTP/Chris Knoll
January 03, 2018 06:57 PM
Richard Nolden retired from Honeywell early, confident an agreement between his union and the company guaranteeing his medical benefits until age 65 would hold up.
He wouldn't have taken early retirement otherwise, he says.
He was one of more than 300 people who left Honeywell early between 2007 and February of 2013, at least in part because of collective bargaining agreements with the company that guaranteed them medical benefits through Honeywell until they reached 65.
A lawsuit was filed on their behalf in November seeking to continue the benefits after Honeywell and the Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1145 agreed in early 2017 to stop paying medical for those early retirees, even if they hadn't yet reached 65.
The benefit was to run dry on Jan. 1 of this year. And some of the former employees had signed up for health insurance elsewhere.
A federal judge on Friday granted a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of the plaintiffs, requiring Honeywell to continue medical coverage for that class for at least another month while the case is pending.
But Nolden and other early retirees who had made other arrangements said they were blindsided when their January pension check from Honeywell drew money to cover health insurance through the company.
"It's a big mess. None of us know what's going on," said Nolden, who was a union representative for 35 years and had a hand in negotiating the 2007 and 2010 collective bargaining agreements he said guaranteed coverage through 65 for early retirees.
"I think Honeywell should have sent a letter out to people instead of deducting from their check."
After the March announcement that the benefits would stop this year, Nolden, who turns 63 in February and is disabled, signed up for Medicare, which he says will cost him more than $100 beyond what he paid through Honeywell each month.
To his surprise, the $145 that had been deducted from each pension check for health insurance was again taken out in January. Nolden said he has placed multiple phone calls to Honeywell, and has not been provided with an explanation. He blames the company for not communicating to the early retirees what was happening with their benefits.
And he said he's spoken to others in his situation who've encountered the same hassle.
In a statement, a Honeywell spokesperson addressed only the injunction:
"Honeywell disagrees with the decision and has already filed an appeal."
The company did not answer questions about how it planned to communicate benefit changes with early retirees, whether it plans to compensate early retirees who sought health insurance elsewhere, or how it would handle potential resumption of benefits should plaintiffs win their lawsuit.
The suit names as plaintiffs Augustine Pacheco and Vicki Hansen, specifically, and was filed on behalf of other early retirees across multiple Honeywell locations in the state. For now, the class consists of one former Honeywell employee and two retirees' spouses or dependents.
Hansen, another early retiree, said she had no idea Honeywell was going to continue to deduct for health insurance from the pensions in January.
"We were asking them for coverage, of course, but we had no idea we were going to get it until we got (the call about the injunction)," she said.
She had taken pains to reach out to the 320 affected former Honeywell employees in an attempt to explain their options relative to the lawsuit. That included creating a Facebook page, organizing meetings and tracking down as many of the 320 early retirees via email and phone as she could.
"We tried to reach out to everybody we could," she said. "We've done what we could do. We're not getting paid to do this."
Hansen said she told the early retirees that she chose to not purchase additional health insurance just yet, because she knew she could get coverage through MNsure immediately via special enrollment. Whichever way the court decides on the lawsuit, those affected would have 60 days in a special enrollment period to sign up for coverage elsewhere.
Despite her suggestion, Hansen said she's spoken with some who have decided it's better to pay for two sets of insurance, just in case.
"People are nervous," she said. "I understand that."
Gerald VanBrocklin and his wife Deb also took Honeywell up on the early retiree package. They since have both been insured through Deb's Honeywell coverage, because they believed Deb, at 60, could maintain the benefit for them both another five years. Gerald will be 68 in March.
But Gerald VanBrocklin decided after the announcement last March that he would move to Medicare, just to be safe. Deb, who has heart trouble and has undergone a quadruple bypass, has not yet moved coverage. And Gerald said the couple has received no communication from Honeywell.
Gerald said Deb, in Arizona assisting her mother, sent a hard copy check to Honeywell for her January coverage just in case.
"They will owe her back," he said.
"I knew I had to go on Part B Medicare, so I was okay," Gerald VanBrocklin said. "But she was in limbo, because nobody was sure Honeywell would be able to (drop coverage).
"Deb has to get a good plan because of her health needs. But she can't afford to be without it for any period of time, so I guess she'll have to scramble."
Updated: January 03, 2018 06:57 PM
Created: January 03, 2018 02:58 PM
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