United Container Machinery union says retirees will lose health benefits

MarquipWard to absorb Md. company's operations

July 26, 2002|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Retirees of United Container Machinery Inc. have been told by union officials that they will be without health benefits after the company is sold at the end of the month.

Glen Arm-based United, which makes machines that make corrugated boxes, has agreed to sell its assets to Barry-Wehmiller Cos. Inc., a St. Louis-based holding company that also owns United competitor MarquipWard of Cockeysville. United's operations will be folded into MarquipWard's.

The acquiring company is not taking over the health benefits for about 80 retirees.

"I don't know which way to turn. It's going to be a nervous hardship for me," said Joseph E. Rodert, 75, who spent 28 years at the company and its predecessors before retiring in 1992. "The company's not living up to its obligation. That's what it boils down to."

The president of United would confirm only that his company will pay benefits through the end of the month. "The company is being closed. We are fulfilling our obligations through July 2002," said Gregory Landegger. "Our company almost went bankrupt. We found a white knight in Barry-Wehmiller."

Though officials of the Machinists union, which negotiated the health care plan, are fighting to retain the benefits, they acknowledge that it is an uphill battle, especially because the union doesn't technically represent workers who have retired. United has about 80 retirees in the Baltimore area.

"You've got people who worked their whole life thinking they would get these benefits when they retire, and now the employer is saying they do not feel legally responsible to provide them once they close," said James Lautar, chief negotiator for the local union.

The company is probably right, said Edward Sutkowski, founder and principal at Sutkowski & Rhoads Ltd., a Peoria, Ill., law firm that specializes in employee-benefit issues.

"The company has no continuing obligation to fund the [health care] plan because by definition it's unfunded. It's a pay-as-you-go plan," he said.

The United pension fund is solvent and won't be affected by the company's sale, Lautar said.

United started in 1882 as F.X. Hooper and later became a division of Koppers Co. Carl C. Landegger, chairman of United and Gregory Landegger's father, bought it in 1986.

A substantial number of the 185 workers at United will be offered long-term and temporary jobs at MarquipWard, said President Michael Harris, although some might be out of state. MarquipWard is a nonunion company.

Donald T. Beavers Sr., 69, retired in 1993 after 43 years with what is now United. He has had four stomach operations in the past two years and worries about how he would pay for medicine and more operations without health coverage. "I took it for granted that I'd be insured for the rest of my life."

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