Case retirees speak up to save medical benefits

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More than 4,000 CNH Global (Case) retirees are trying to save their medical benefits from drastic changes.

Retirees say they're entitled to lifetime benefits as part of their union contract. But an overturned court decision puts that health care in jeopardy.

Bill Baker, 60, crafted a career at the Case plant in East Moline. But after 30 years as a union machinist, his medical benefits are up for grabs.

"This is supposed to be my golden years," he said. "It's not my golden years."

That's why Baker joined hundreds of CNH Global retirees on Friday at the iWireless Center. They learned about proposals to cancel drug plans for medicare-eligible retirees and spouses.

Attorneys are documenting the financial and emotional hardship on their clients. Litigation on the subject has dragged on, in one form or another, for at least 20 years.

Younger retirees like Baker also face drastic benefit cuts. It could cost him more than $2,400 next year.

"I don't know how I'm going to do it," he said.

Baker symbolizes the end of an era. In 2004, he captured on home video the last shiny red combine to roll off the East Moline line.

It was a way to remember a part of manufacturing history. A way of life that vanished forever when the plant closed for good.

"It was hard after being here 30 years," he said at the time. "That's my life. And to see it go, it hurts."

All that's left of the Case plant these days is a barren field waiting for redevelopment. But retirees like Baker say that a deal is a deal. The company should honor the contract.

"To me, they need to just bite the bullet and suck it up," he said.

Baker is one of the former UAW workers affected by the proposal. It covers hourly retirees from July 1994 through March 2005.

It's up to a judge to determine now if the proposed changes are "reasonable."

"It's a shame," Baker concluded. "They put us through a lot of stuff. I think we really deserve it."

For Bill Baker, a decision about dollars that's based on a company's promise. It's the Case legacy on the firing line.