Dayton’s U.S. District Court building. FILE

Court rulings let Honeywell dump retiree health coverage

One of the rulings was issued last week by a judge in Eastern Michigan’s federal court. Another ruling came last month from the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2011, the United Auto Workers and Honeywell retirees sued for minimum premium contributions for health care coverage.

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A similar suit was filed in Dayton’s U.S. District Court, with Judge Walter Rice ruling in February 2017 that the retirees had proven that Honeywell had agreed to provide lifetime healthcare benefits to its retirees from what was its Greenville plant.

Honeywell last year pledged to appeal Rice’s ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last month, that court ruled that Honeywell does not owe lifetime healthcare benefits to retirees.

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The plaintiffs in the Michigan court case — the UAW and its retirees — had sought summary judgment and a permanent injunction against Honeywell, in a bid to block the company from ending health benefits, something the company had warned in April that it planned to do.

Honeywell argued that there was an absence of “clear vesting language” requiring lifetime health benefits.

It argued that the “absence of any clear vesting language is particularly significant because the (collective bargaining agreements) contained express vesting language regarding other benefits, including pension benefits, which demonstrates that the parties knew how to expressly vest benefits and did not do so with respect to healthcare benefit contributions.”

U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood agreed, ruling in Eastern Michigan’s court that as of Wednesday (Honeywell) is not required to provide retirees healthcare coverage or to make any minimum premium contributions.

On Monday, a spokesman for Honeywell released a statement, saying the union contract for Greenville retirees expired more than four years ago.

“In 2015, UAW retirees were notified their coverage would end,” Honeywell’s statement said. “Even though most of the company’s U.S. workforce does not have retiree medical benefits, Honeywell has continued to provide that coverage for some of its union members for the past four years as this case proceeded in the courts. The court’s decision reaffirms Honeywell’s position that its obligation to continue retiree medical benefits ended with the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. “

Honeywell operated the Greenville plant from about 1960 until it sold the facility in 2011.

The plant at 851 Jackson St. in Greenville had 180 workers in 2011 when Fram was acquired by Rank Group Ltd. from Honeywell International Inc. The plant had more than 400 workers in more recent years.

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