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A letter in the Aug. 12 Tomahawk Leader:
Dear Tomahawk Leader:
Sadly, General Motors has become the latest American company to eliminate health benefits for its retirees over the age of 65. This is just the first major casualty of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) decision earlier this year to allow companies to discriminate against older retirees by treating them differently from younger retirees. GM has set a precedent that will, most certainly, lead to other employers “following suit.” In recent years, as a cost-cutting measure, some corporations have resorted to canceling or reducing retiree healthcare coverage. These are benefits that were earned by employees and accepted by them as part of their total compensation package.
In the 1950s-1980s these benefits were “Inducements,” in lieu of higher wages. Continued health benefits in retirement were a strong incentive for many to stay with their employer for decades of loyal service. The current inference that corporate retirement benefits are entitlements or gifts is just reprehensibly and immorally wrong. They are benefits that have been earned over careers spanning 30-40 years. Corporations benefited greatly by providing them in lieu of higher wages.
Two bills now in Congress, the bi-partisan Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act (H.R. 1322), and the Pension Protection Act ERISA Amendments of 2008 (H.R. 6143), address this issue and would make companies live up to the financial contracts entered into with their employees and retirees decades ago. According to the bills, changes to health benefits would need to be made before an employee retires.
The financial reality of providing healthcare coverage is considered in both bills. They ensure that employers are not burdened with a cost they cannot afford or that does financial harm to the company. Companies may apply for an exemption if they feel compliance would be a substantial hardship. Most importantly, both bills ensure that employers meet their contractual commitments to their long-time employees who earned those benefits through years of dedicated service.
Support from members of Congress is critical to retirees in this state and across the country, especially in light of the EEOC ruling that allows companies to cut supplemental health coverage to retirees age 65 and over.
Healthcare coverage is a vital issue for all Americans. It is imperative that before the Democratic and Republican conventions both presidential candidates and Congress address these issues – now of crisis proportion – and put into their platform a true plan of action for the protection of retirees' earned healthcare benefits. To those holding or seeking office in 2008 … Sens. Kohl and Feingold and Rep. Kagen, I encourage you not to take the retiree/senior vote for granted. They represented 62.5 percent of those who voted in the last election. Many of us … suffer the potential of serious damage if these issues are not addressed and solved. We are counting on your, our elected officials, to take our interests to heart.
Very truly yours, Samuel R. Shugar, Ed.D. Hazelhurst
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