Members of a retiree organization upset about recent changes to their heath care plan showed up at John Deere’s annual shareholder meeting in Moline Wednesday to protest. John Deere used to sponsor coverage for its white-collar retirees, but then changed the plan so that they must now enroll in Medicare.
The retirees are re-imbursed for any supplemental coverage they need, but allege they receive lower benefits under the new system, and have hired a Phoenix law firm to look into suing Deere. Mike Stohlmeyer, a spokesman for the some 5,000 "Flex Retirees," questioned the decision to change the benefits.
Stohlmeyer says:"The company, even in the worst of times in the past, over its lifetime of 170 years, has never gone in and reduced health care benefits for retirees. So why are we reducing health care benefits for retirees when we’re making record profits?" Stohlmeye also asked C.E.O. Bob Lane why he refused to meet with retirees.
Stohlmeyer says he can’t understand why the company refuses to meet to resolve the issues short of going into a lawsuit. But in a prepared statement, Lane said the threat of future litigation made it–quote–"no longer prudent, or in the best interest of the company" to answer questions about the controversy. Deere spokesman, Ken Golden, says the company would be willing to meet again with the retirees.
"We’re not going to go back in time, and that’s the situation," Golden says, "there have been demands that we basically quit the program. We’re not going to quit the program. The program is in place and we are moving ahead." Also during the meeting, the retirees asked Lane to justify his 52-million dollar compensation package from last year, and why the company is "abandoning its promise" to its former workers.