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Court Orders Newspaper to Restore Retiree Health Benefits

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In a big victory for CWA retirees from the Akron Beacon-Journal, a federal court ordered the newspaper and owner, Canadian media mogul David Holmes Black, to restore their prescription-drug plan and pay them the full cost of their wrongfully denied benefits.

"This is a tremendous victory because the court recognized the enforceability of benefits conferred because of the union's collective bargaining efforts," said CWA District 4 Vice President Seth Rosen.

In 2006, the newspaper increased prescription co-pays for the retirees as much as 700 percent, violating a health care benefit the Beacon-Journal had guaranteed workers in exchange for retiring early. The newspaper claimed that the benefits were not vested but "gratuitous" and therefore could be changed.

U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd Jr. rejected the newspaper's argument, citing promises the newspaper made not only in the contract but agreements made individually in workers' buy-out packages. The Beacon-Journal offered the buy-outs to persuade workers to retire early and give up a lifetime employment guarantee negotiated in the union contract, said Rosen.

The 33 retirees, members of CWA Local 14514/Akron Typographical Union, sued the newspaper last September, with CWA's support.

"It's gratifying that these retirees finally got justice," said Printing, Publishing and Media Workers Sector President Bill Boarman. "They left their careers early to help out the Beacon Journal, and for the newspaper to repay them with a broken promise was indefensible."

Owner David Black interfered with the newspapers' contractual obligations after he bought the paper in 2006, according to the Chandra Law Firm, one of the firms representing the retirees. Black and the newspaper "engaged in a 'bait and switch' that denied workers contractually guaranteed, lifetime, low-cost health care in exchange for their early retirement," the firm said.

 

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