Court Rejects Constellium Bid to Reverse Health Care Ruling

|Jun 16|magazine6 min read

MINERAL WELLS, W.Va., June 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A U.S. District Court judge blocked an effort by Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood to overturn an arbitrator's ruling that prevented the company from making unilateral changes to health care benefits for its retirees.

In his ruling, Judge Thomas E. Johnston rejected the aluminum company's argument that it had the right to modify health and prescription drug coverage for retired workers and agreed with the arbitrator that the coverage was subject to the terms of USW's collective bargaining agreement with the company, which went into effect in 2017 and runs through Sept. 19, 2022.

"This is a significant victory for this group of workers, many of whom devoted decades of their lives to this company," said Ernest R. "Billy" Thompson, the USW's director of District 8, which represents thousands of workers in West Virginia and three neighboring states. "They deserve the benefits that they earned over a lifetime of hard work, benefits that this company negotiated into their union contract."

The dispute began in August 2018, when the Ravenswood, W.Va., company informed its retirees in a letter that it was planning to terminate their group medical and drug coverage at the end of that year and replace it with health reimbursement accounts that they could use to purchase supplemental Medicare coverage. The union filed a grievance objecting to the company's plan, which ultimately led the two sides to arbitration.

The arbitrator's ruling, upheld by Judge Johnston in his June 11 decision, ordered that "the retiree benefits in question must be maintained, unchanged, through the entire term of the 2017 agreement."

The USW also sued to obtain an injunction, which prevented the changes from taking effect while the arbitration proceeded.

"We have collective bargaining agreements to prevent exactly this kind of scenario – to keep corporations from making unilateral, top-down decisions like this, decisions that hurt working people," Thompson said. "I hope that this ruling sends a clear message that employers can't simply decide to ignore the pieces of their contracts that they don't like."

The USW represents 850,000 men and women employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in public sector and service occupations.

Contact: R.J. Hufnagel, [email protected], 412-562-2450

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SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)