CANTON — Unionized Steelworkers who made careers at Timken Co. and TimkenSteel can usually tell you exactly how long they worked for the iconic business.
“Forty-one years, 10 months,” said Joe Hoagland.
“Thirty-three years, 11 months,” said Marty Kirsch.
They’re proud of their service. But they’re also angry. They say the company has broken a deal by changing terms of health benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees, effective Aug. 1.
Members of United Steelworkers Golden Lodge Local 1123 held protest signs and lined a sidewalk Tuesday along 18th Street SW, east of Dueber Avenue.
Messages on signs carried by those in the group of less than 100 were to the point: “Timken Don’t Steel Our Benefits” and “TimkenSteel (don’t) Renege; Honor Your Agreements.”
The picketing location was strategic — near company headquarters. The early morning timing was planned, as well. It was designed to grab the attention of shareholders arriving for TimkenSteel’s annual meeting at 10 a.m.
Steelworkers say the change violates contract language that dates to 1994 and remains part of the current agreement. It provides a maximum of $295 per month for each participant toward insurance payments that supplement Medicare.
The change would require TimkenSteel retirees on Medicare to work with Aon Retiree Health Exchange to find the best plan for their needs and to get assistance as they transition to an individual Medicare plan, according to the company.
The $295-per-month subsidy would end. Instead, a health reimbursement account (HRA) would help pay eligible premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. It would be funded with $1,800 annually for pre-1994 retirees, spouses and surviving spouses, and $1,200 annually for post-1994 retirees, according to the company.
In an emailed explanation Tuesday, TimkenSteel said an ongoing review found the three Medicare supplement plans previously offered to Medicare-eligible retirees were expensive and inflexible — for both the retirees and the company.
The company said Aon has been working with nonunion retirees with positive results.
The company said retirees can retain current physicians in most situations and will save an average of $1,200 per year. In addition, TimkenSteel will save about $5 million in 2019 alone.
Aon is offering individual phone support and in-person information sessions. Retirees also can call 844-360-4711 (TTY 711), Mondays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for assistance.
“This is about promises made, then not kept,” said Bill Conner, a subdistrict director with Steelworkers District 1.
The change affects only Steelworkers designated as retirees with TimkenSteel. In 2014, when TimkenSteel was separated from Timken Co., retirees were divided between the two companies based on departments in which they worked.
Late in 2018, Timken Co., which makes tapered roller bearings and power transmission equipment, instituted a new plan for its Medicare-eligible retirees. Bob Harper, Local 1123 president, had said Timken Co. also used Aon as a third-party provider but continued to offer plans and pay the $295 per month.
Prior to the picket, the group met for a brief meeting at the Golden Lodge hall on Harrison Avenue SW.
“I’m tired of people telling me this company loves us,” said Harper, adding that employees are treated as numbers. “This is not the Timken from years ago.”
Jim Repace, who was invited to the session by Harper, said the same thing happened to former Hoover Co. workers. Repace, a former president and business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985, told the Steelworkers they need to lobby federal lawmakers to make changes.
“This has got to stop,” he said.
In February, a federal appeals court said Hoover Co. retirees are not entitled to lifetime health care benefits.