Wed October 8, 2008
Kodak Retirees Protest Benefit Cuts
By Bud Lowell
Rochester, NY – Eastman Kodak Company retirees circled the Kodak building on State Street Wednesday, protesting reductions in their health care benefits.
It's the second time a hundred or more retirees have picketed Kodak headquarters in downtown Rochester. They briefly blocked the company's driveway while two members of the clergy led prayers, then joined in singing "God Bless America."
Edward Gartz retired after 37 years at Kodak. He now heads the SNAP Foundation which works to develop photographic skills in youth. He says retirees are having their benefits stolen by being forced to dip into funds they were depending on to keep up their health insurance. Gartz says this has many of his friends looking to go back to work, but in an environment without jobs comparable to the ones they left.
Gartz says Kodak hasn't responded to the retiree protests, so they're talking with retirees from Xerox and General Motors who have also had pension benefits scaled back. He says he's been getting letters and emails from retirees around the country about this issue.
Gartz says their goal is to march in Washington in support of a bill sponsored by Rochester Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. The Emergency Retirees Protection Act would restrict companies from cutting back on benefits that were promised to retirees.
Kodak mailed out 16-page newsletters to its U.S. retirees last month informing retirees that they will lose their dental coverage next year. Health coverage for their dependents will be phased out over the next ten years. Retirees will also pick up a bigger share of their health care over that same ten year period.
Kodak says it will still be covering 66 percent of retirees' health premiums next year. They've also added a new, cheaper insurance plan although it comes with a 23-hundred dollar deductible.
The company estimates that two-person coverage next year will go up by a hundred dollars a month -- and 500 dollars a month for the top-option plan.