These drivers (eight in Norwalk and three at a different site) are not asking for wage increases, increased vacation time, improved health benefits or other items. They are simply asking that the pension plan they started out with at Maple City Ice be left intact. The pension plan is the Central States Pension Fund. Maple City Ice wants out of the pension fund with its reason being that it is throwing money away by continuing to pay into a plan that is in financial difficulty. However, if this happens it would trigger a penalty which would result in the drivers losing two-thirds of their retirement. Once money has been placed in the pension fund workers may not withdraw or transfer it. The money must remain there. The eight strikers from Norwalk at Maple City Ice have the following years at the company: 18, 24, 25, 25, 27, 28, 31, and 35. They have proposed a two- year contract staying in the Central States Pension Fund.
Currently, Maple City Ice pays $8,360 per driver into the Central States Pension Fund. It is proposing to instead pay $2,200 (before taxes) to each driver at the end of each calendar year. The company would pocket the difference of $6,160 per driver. This would equal approximately $49,280 a year or $246,280 over a five-year contract. Over the last 15 years the drivers have given up pay raises for pension money. They have taken less in commission pay in exchange for higher pension contributions. They thus made a conscious effort to build their pension benefits. The $8,360 is therefore their money. It is part of the wages and benefits package Maple City Ice has paid the drivers over the years. The Maple City “buyout” uses the $246,280 the company would pocket and which the drivers have already earned. The buyout in effect would equal $12,340 per driver.
This is unadulterated greed on behalf of Maple City Ice.
The success of the company is a direct result of the hard work of the employees. The striking workers have been pushed into a corner where their only response has been to say, “Enough.” How much profit must Maple City Ice achieve before it abandons its attitude of, “To hell with the workers. They’ll do what we say.?” Very few of us, when faced with losing a pension we had started work with and hoped to retire with, would feel any differently or react any differently than these striking workers.
A bi-partisan bill has been introduced in Congress by Sens. Portman and Brown to put pension plans back on solid footing and ensure they can meet their obligations to current retirees and workers for decades to come, without cuts. This bill is entitled the Butch Lewis Act. I encourage readers to check out the details about this bill by going to Sen. Brown’s website at brown.senate.gov. Passage of this bill would make the strike at Maple City Ice and other businesses unnecessary in the future. We urge your support of this measure.
It’s never easy to go on strike. These men have done so only as a last resort when faced with losing their pensions. It’s especially difficult when their families are suffering. Christmas time only adds more sadness to their situation. In a season of great joy these striking workers face an uncertain future not of their own making.
I ask that Maple City Ice return to the table and bargain in good faith — something up to this time that it has not done. Make this a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for all your employees.
Scott Ford is a Norwalk resident and a retired teacher from the Norwalk City Schools.