The Check's in the Mail

How a once-mighty union sold out thousands of workers on the eve of retirement

He kept looking, but hasn't been able to find anything that doesn't run afoul of the reemployment clause. If he were to be caught breaking the rule, he'd have to quit whatever job he had, pay back the pension he'd received while working, and pay a penalty equivalent to three months of payments. He'd had to forfeit his pension once in the past, so he was scared to take anything without Central States' okay. As a result, a couple of jobs that qualified disappeared while he was waiting for an answer. (Central States has since agreed to provide answers to queries like Rich's within 30 days.)

"My dad retired out of the union, too, and the only restriction he had was he couldn't go drive a truck," Rich complains. "The union in the trucking industry is dead. They aren't organizing anyone new and with this out there, they're not going to."

In October 2002, he had a rummage sale. A man came to it and asked if Rich would like to work two days a week at a car auction in a neighboring town, washing cars for $7.75 an hour. Rich jumped at the chance, and for a little while he just barely made ends meet.

Raoul Benavides

But last year his share of his Central States health insurance jumped from $50 to $200 a month. Plan administrators announced their intention to increase each retiree's share of the premium by $100 a month every year until they are eligible for Medicaid. At that rate, by the time Rich is old enough to go on Medicaid, his $3,000 pension will total $1,300 a month.

If he had a choice, he'd go back to work. "I would have to earn more than $17 an hour to equal my pension, and without an education, that's not going to happen," Rich says. "I buy the paper every day to look for a job. Am I bitter? Yes, I am bitter."

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