By Robert Wang
CantonRep.com staff writer
With their health care plan at stake, Marge Walters, 78, and her husband Bob, 86, struggled to find parking half an hour before a Hoover Co. retirees’ meeting Thursday morning.
With about 800 to 1,000 people packing their vehicles into the parking lots around the Mayfield Senior Center and a nearby park, the Canton couple risked a parking violation. They left their car at a curbside corner, navigated with their walkers through the massive crowd, only to find no available seats.
Most of the Hoover retirees who attended got a letter last month from Hoover’s former parent company, saying that they would be switched to new health plans starting in January 2013.
“I was ready to cry,” said Marge Walters, whose husband retired from Hoover in 1987 after 29 years. “They didn’t tell us anything on how much it’s going to cost us. … We’re too old to understand all this.”
The meeting attracted so many that hundreds spilled into an overflow room and outside the room’s front door. It was a pep rally, informational program, question-and-answer session, venting session and even a reunion. It also allowed organizers to circulate a signup sheet so they would have a list of affected retirees.
Jim Repace, former president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985, which represented Hoover workers, said all eight contracts the union signed with Hoover since 1980 guaranteed that Hoover, or whoever bought Hoover, would pay for a specified retiree health plan for the rest of the retirees’ lives.
Attorney Allen Schulman offered to represent the estimated 2,300 Hoover retirees and their spouses affected, and to help file possible legal action.
“The Whirlpool Corporation is saying to you … ‘We’re really sorry. Times are tough. We’re going to cut back on your health care benefits’ That’s not acceptable,” said Schulman. “You have the right to challenge what Whirlpool is doing in court.”
Schulman urged the group to appoint a five-member steering committee to consult regularly with the attorneys. He also said people who could afford to do so would be asked to contribute a “modest amount” into a fund to cover legal expenses. Schulman said it would not be appropriate to publicly discuss legal strategies.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, along with former congressman John Boccieri, were on hand.
In an emailed statement, Whirlpool said, “In 2013, Hoover retirees’ health care coverage will be aligned with the coverage offered to Whirlpool Corporation retirees. This plan design offers benefits superior to medical plans offered by 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies.”
About 115 Hoover workers who retired after December 2006 are not affected because they get health benefits from Techtronic Industries, which bought Hoover from Whirlpool.
The letter from Whirlpool sent to Hoover retirees says that starting in January 2013:
* Retirees ages 65 and older who are eligible for Medicare no longer will receive any coverage from a Whirlpool-sponsored plan. Whirlpool will reimburse, up to $85 a month, the cost of supplemental medical plans and pharmacy plans.
* For those younger than 65 and not on Medicare, retirees would be switched from their Aultcare-Hoover and McKinley plans to one of three plans that would involve deductibles of $500 to $4,000, where retirees pay $15 to 40 percent of the cost of an office visit. Those who complete “wellness activities” would pay less. Repace said Whirlpool has not said how much the premiums would be and exactly what would be covered. The new plans would be more costly, he said.
Rhana Kassey, 63, of Plain Township, who worked at Hoover with her husband and suffers from a chronic lung condition, said they canceled plans to buy a house in Florida.
“If I have a contract, and I have to stick to it, why shouldn’t big business?” she asked. “I’m not going to get the needed care, and I’m going to die at a younger age.”
Dennis Ladley, 61, of Massillon, who worked 35 years for Hoover, had to go into the overflow room and hear the speakers through the audio system. He said while not all his questions were answered, organizers provided the information they could.
He said when he got the letter, “I was mad. It’s just more corporate greed. It never stops, and I’m sure some CEO of Whirlpool will get some bonus for coming up with this idea.”