Newspaper Faces Second Suit over Retiree Health Benefits

September 29, 2011 ( - The St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- already fending off a lawsuit from the Newspaper Guild over retiree benefits -- now faces another suit from the union representing its mailroom workers.

According to the Riverfront Times, the CWA Local 14620, also known as the St. Louis Mailers Union No. 3, represents the 220 employees who work in the mailroom, as well as retirees, says Richard Rosenblatt, an attorney with Colorado-based Rosenblatt & Gosch. It filed suit in an attempt to force the company to resume providing healthcare for the 22 retirees who were kicked off the company’s plan in March. 

Under a collective bargaining agreement in place from 2004 to March 15, 2011, the newspaper provided health-care benefits to anyone who’d had 10 years of service in at the point of their retirement. It also reimbursed eligible retirees for their Medicare payments. 

But three days after that collective bargaining agreement expired, on March 18, the union alleges that its retirees were told the Post-Dispatch’s parent company, Lee Enterprises, was making some unilateral changes. From now, retirees who wanted to be part of the employee health plan had to pay 100% of the cost, and there would no longer be Medicare reimbursements. When the union filed a grievance, the company refused to go to arbitration. 

The news report said the lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District Court of Missouri, attempts to force the company into arbitration. Rosenblatt adds that the judge could also declare that the health benefits are a vested right, owed to the retirees as a matter of law — and in that case, “it won’t be a long arbitration.”

In the Guild’s lawsuit over its retirees’ benefits, the district court judge ordered arbitration (see Court Sends Retiree Health Dispute to Arbitration). When the paper appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the justices sent the case back to the district court to determine whether the benefits are vested. That decision is still pending.