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.
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 yesterday 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.
"They made a promise to long-term employees when they retired," Rosenblatt says. "The union is simply trying to enforce the promise they made to their long-term, loyal employees."
Under a collective bargaining agreement in place from 2004 to March 15, 2011, the newspaper provided health-care benefits to anyone who'd had ten 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 percent 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 lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District Court of Missouri, attempts to force the company into arbitration, Rosenblatt says. He 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. When the paper appealed to the Eighth Circuit, the justices there sent the case back to the district court to determine whether the benefits are vested. That decision is still pending.
's parent company, Lee Enterprises, has nearly $1 billion in debt coming due next April. While it's arranged to refinance $686 million of that debt, those plans hinge on finding refinancing for an additional $142.5 million -- even as the company's current market value on the stock exchange
is just $50 million. If it can't manage to refinance the remaining debt, the company has indicated it could seek some form of prepackaged bankruptcy
If that happens, Rosenblatt says, the union will continue its fight in bankruptcy court.