Judge: Windstream can change retiree benefits

In our 2008 Year in Review, we noted labor-related issues as one of the biggest stories of the past year. Well, just before the year ended, there was another notable headline on this topic. A U.S. district court judge declined to block a previously-announced plan by Windstream Communications to reduce benefits and force some retirees to contribute to the cost of their health insurance. A lawsuit representing hundreds of retirees who used to work for Nebraska-based Aliant Communications, which was acquired by Windstream, had sought to stop Windstream from doing so on the grounds that their benefits were fully vested and permanent. However, the judge ruled that Windstream is entitled by the language in the benefits plan to make changes to the plans. The lawsuit remains active.

There are several other benefit-related disputes between telcos and either current or retired employees (or both) going on around the world, so the headlines are likely to keep coming in 2009. Rulings like last week's decision, however, may suggest that workers and retirees have a tough fight ahead of them.

For more:
- Forbes has the Associated Press story

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