When Connie Gilbert began working for Consol Energy’s nonunion Buchanan Mine, the complaint for this class action says, she attended a group orientation that told new employees that if they worked for the company for ten years and reached the age of 55, they would receive retirement benefits for themselves and their spouses for life. Gilbert, who’d previous worked in a union mine, accepted these terms. In September 2014, she retired and began receiving retirement benefits. But, according to the complaint, in June of 2015—less than a year later—she received a letter telling her that her welfare benefits would terminate at the end of that year.
The class for this action is all nonunion retirees from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries and affiliated entities whose healthcare benefits were curtailed or terminated in 2014 or 2015.
When Consol hired new nonunion employees, the complaint alleges, they were given a presentation of the benefits of working for the company, including the promise of lifetime welfare benefits, including medical, prescription drug, dental, vision, and life insurance. The complaint claims that workers were told, in writing, “This is a better deal than the UMWA [union] negotiated in the national contract. AND REMEMBER, IT DIDN’T COST YOU A PENNY IN DUES OR ASSESSMENTS.”
Plaintiff Emmet Casey, Jr. is a similar case. According to the complaint, in his early years with the company in the 1970s, there were strikes and other union ferment, and the company wanted to impress on workers that working nonunion could be a good deal. Casey accepted a nonunion position, the complaint claims, knowing that his wages would be lower, but expecting to receive the lifetime benefits after he retired. Casey worked for the company for about thirty-five years, during which time, the complaint claims, the company made yearly presentations on the lifetime welfare benefits. He retired in 2013, and, as with Gilbert, lost his benefits at the end of 2015.
The complaint contains hints that the company may claim that the benefit plan for active workers is different from that of retired workers, and that the plan for retired workers contained a statement saying that benefits for retirees could be terminated at any time. However, the complaint claims that the plans have the same number and that at no time during their employment were workers shown a Summary Plan Description for a separate retirement plan.
Also, when the company announced the termination of its welfare plans, it offered active workers a “cash transition” to compensate active workers, but made no such offer to retirees.