Beth Steel plan for panel irks retirees

Ex-salaried workers want a larger voice

August 20, 2002|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

A group representing retired salaried workers of Bethlehem Steel Corp. said yesterday that it is not satisfied with last week's proposal by the steelmaker for a committee to represent retirees during its Chapter 11 proceedings.

Bruce E. Davis, a lawyer for the Retired Employees Benefits Coalition, said he is happy that Bethlehem is supporting the idea of a committee dedicated to retiree interests. But he is upset that salaried retirees would have only two members on the six-member committee and that one of those would not have a vote. The other four members, as proposed by Bethlehem, would represent retirees of the United Steelworkers of America, mine workers, shipbuilders and railroad workers.

One of the proposed salaried retiree committee members - Lewis Sensenbach of Phoenix in Baltimore County - would represent workers who retired before April 1, 1984, and are covered under the Bethlehem Permanent Health Program. The other retiree member would represent those who retired after that date and are covered by the Comprehensive Medical Program.

Bethlehem said it didn't seek a vote for the comprehensive medical representative because terms of that plan "permit Bethlehem to amend or terminate the [plan] unilaterally."

"We don't disagree [with Bethlehem's contention], but we do disagree with having a retirees' committee made up of six people where you disenfranchise one of the six," Davis said.

Davis is seeking not only a vote for the representative, slated to be Charles F. Collins of Bethlehem, Pa., but also a third voting member who would represent salaried retirees and would bring the number of members to seven.

According to the filing, Bethlehem covers 10,800 people - former workers and spouses - under the comprehensive medical plan, 15,600 under the permanent plan and 61,300 under the Steelworkers retiree plan. Another 7,300 are covered, in total, under plans for the mine, shipyard and rail retirees.

A spokesman for Bethlehem said yesterday that it will be "up to the court" to decide the correct composition of retiree representatives. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Bethlehem, which employs about 3,400 in Baltimore, filed for Chapter 11 protection in October. It has said recently that it needs to significantly cut back on the benefits it pays to retirees - as well as win a more flexible contract with the Steelworkers - in order to remain in business.

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