U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Honeywell Retirees Won't Get Health Benefits

The Honeywell Autolite factory in Fostoria, Ohio, once employed more than 1,000 people; that was nearly 10 percent of the town's population.

Then, following a string of factory closures in the area, the spark plug plant started to close down. Today, there's only a handful of workers at the plant and not much they can do about it.

For Honeywell retirees, it's even worse. They had counted on health insurance benefits, but a federal appeals court said the company doesn't owe them any.

"Too-Familiar Story"

It seemed to pain the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to deliver the bad news. The judges called it a "too-familiar story" in Atkins v. Honeywell International Inc.

The Honeywell plant had operated in Fostoria for almost 40 years. Many union workers like Ann Watkins and Ulicny had spent most of their lives working at the plant.

Under a collective-bargaining agreement, the company was supposed to pay for their health insurance when they retired. But when the agreement ended in 2011, the company did not renew agreement and the payments stopped.

Watkins and Ulicny sued, but a trial judge dismissed their complaint. The bargaining agreement said the benefits lasted "for the duration of the Agreement."

Pension Benefits

The good news was pension benefits had vested for the retirees. But that was the end of the health insurance benefits, the appeals court said.

"The language discussing pension benefits expressly said that pension benefits vested for life; no similar language said that healthcare benefits would vest for life," Chief Judge R. Guy Cole , Jr. wrote.

For the last 56 Honeywell workers in Fostoria, the end is near. Union representatives are negotiating a closing agreement.

"We might get another six months out of them," local union president Bob Teeple said.

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