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Showdown between Honeywell Inc. and Retirees Brewing in Michigan

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Detroit, MIA showdown is brewing between retirees of Honeywell International Inc. and the company for whom they once worked, over health care benefits Honeywell is threatening to take way. The former unionized workers counter that ongoing healthcare benefits were part of their promised retirement packages and they are litigating their Michigan employment claim in Michigan court in an effort to save them.

The proposed Michigan labor and employment law class action is brought by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, an entity which represents some 4,700 proposed class members incensed that Honeywell, is attempting to claw back a previous promise to maintain health care benefits, or so it is alleged.

According to court documents, Honeywell had announced they would be ceasing its provision of health care benefits to retirees as of July 1, this year. The retirees counter this move flies in the face of promises made in various collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that hold Honeywell to a contractual obligation to maintain such benefits.

“In the 2003, 2007 and 2011 CBAs, Honeywell promised that after CBA-expiration, Honeywell’s ‘contribution for health care coverage’ for ‘present and future retirees’ and families ‘shall not be less than’ the CBA-specified cap amounts,” the retirees said.

The impasse appears to involve an interpretation as to whether, or not commitments for health care benefits survive the expiry of a collective agreement. A timeline suggests that the most recent CBA explicitly referencing a commitment to post-retirement healthcare benefits expired in early May of last year. In the absence of a successor to the just-expired 2011 CBA, Honeywell is reported to have locked out its current workforce and announced an end to their healthcare benefits – yet at the same time, noted health care benefits would be preserved for retirees.

That commitment was affirmed in October, when Honeywell reportedly verified it planned to maintain healthcare benefits for retirees through 2017.

However, in April of this year Honeywell is reported to have reversed its position, announcing it would stop all healthcare benefits to retirees by July 1.

The retirees, citing Michigan labor laws, say language in collective bargaining agreements which suggest commitments to provision of lifetime healthcare benefits for retirees survives the expiry of a CBA. Retirees also cite that Honeywell’s initial commitment to maintain benefits to retirees following the expiry of the 2011 CBA (expired May 3, 2016) is further verification of Honeywell’s original intent and commitment to provide lifetime healthcare benefits.

The Michigan employee rights lawsuit is International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America et al. v. Honeywell International Inc., Case No. 2:11-cv-14036, in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.


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