MASSENA, N.Y. (WWNY) - Alcoa retirees mobilize to fight termination of their company life insurance. They say they earned it and they aren’t giving it back.
The work these men did was hard and hot. They smelted and molded aluminum to feed American industry. So if you're going to take something from them, expect a fight.
“Alcoa doesn't give you anything. … Who built Alcoa to what it is today? It was these people right here, everybody out here,” said Larry Fontaine, Alcoa retiree.
Alcoa sent letters to thousands of retirees telling them their Alcoa life insurance polices will be terminated. It also sent them checks, but for just a fraction of the policies' face value. Thursday, their union sued.
“I'm not sure … where they can just say now, 'We're gonna take it away,'” said Jim Lyons, Alcoa retiree.
Alcoa has has told investors ending the life insurance coverage is part of a larger strategy that should cut its retirement liabilities by about $190 million. On Friday, it issued this statement: “While any action that affects our retirees is difficult, this decision is in alignment with our strategy to improve Alcoa for the long term, including through balance sheet improvements.”
Alcoa also notes retirees can use the check to help buy their own life insurance. Retirees say that's an insult. But they don't want to saddle spouses or kids with burial costs.
"I wanted that protection for us. If something happens to me, we had that $7,500. Probably today it wouldn't cover the whole thing. But at least she'd have something toward your death,” said Gerald Greene, Alcoa retiree.
Some retirees had multiple policies paying more. They paid some of those premiums.
The retirees had a lot of questions for union officials. They tried to answer as best they could.
“We feel that the company is doing this illegally. And it's immoral, in our opinion, to do this to retirees,” said Jack Vanderbaan, USW International staff representative.
The United Steelworkers union has filed the lawsuit in federal court as a class-action. It says the benefit has long been part of the union contract and it expects Alcoa to stick to it.