The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Sweetheart no sweet heart as it cuts benefits of younger workers

Feb 18, 2002

Sweetheart Cup division of Fonda Industries, in Baltimore, Maryland, just posted a notice of an attack on the work force: workers younger than 40 will no longer be eligible for health benefits from Sweetheart when they finally retire, no matter how long they worked at Sweetheart. The company also made eligibility rules a little more difficult for workers who are currently between 40 and 50, pushing up the retirement age to 65 from 60, and requiring 15 years of continuous service after age 50.

The only workers not affected by the changes are those already over 50. At least, so far.

The Sweetheart bosses, like bosses everywhere, never stop looking for ways to prop up their profits. Reducing pension and health benefits is just their latest way to do that.

But Sweetheart had help – important help – from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of the federal government. If anyone had illusions that the EEOC was set up to protect the rights of workers, its ruling August 17 gave the green light to all corporations to cut benefits like Sweetheart did. The EEOC ruled that age-discrimination law suits could not be brought against employers that offered different health care plans for older retirees compared to those offered for younger workers.

The retiree health benefit cut is one more offense by the bosses against the entire working class.

A 2000 study showed that only one large company in three (with over 500 employees) provides health care coverage to retirees under 65. As recently as 1993, 46% – almost half of all such companies – provided this medical coverage. The situation is even worse at smaller companies.

Companies have also stopped guaranteed pensions where these once existed.

Today, less than half of all workers have pensions of any sort. Of those who do, half of these have only the Wall Street slot machines known as the 401(K) plan.

Effectively, the bosses are saying to the workers, “work until you drop – and if you’re no longer able to work then just drop. There’s a handy trash can nearby.”