New Bell-UAW contract dropped Christmas bonus

12/11/2013 8:24 PM

12/12/2013 9:29 AM

Retired Bell Helicopter employees and surviving spouses have learned that they will not receive the $500 Christmas bonus they had come to expect.

Retired employees who contacted the Star-Telegram said they usually got the bonuses shortly after Thanksgiving but instead this year received letters from Textron Fidelity Benefits Center informing them that there will be no bonuses.

The bonuses were eliminated during negotiations between Bell and the United Auto Workers Local 218 for a new five-year contract, which was ratified on Oct. 13. The union represents about 2,500 machinists, packers and forklift operators at Bell.

Retiree T.J. Kimsey, 73, who worked at Bell for 34 years, said retirees had no idea about the decision.

“Most of us paid union dues,” Kimsey said. “For them to forget you or kind of cut you out, that’s a sad state of affairs.”

He and other employees “put Bell on the map when they made helicopters during the Vietnam War,” he said.

“I thought it’s kind of an ugly thing to do. It’s not the money but the principle of the thing.”

Kimsey said he will miss the additional money during the holidays, but said he was worried about widows who “really counted on the extra dollars to help them throughout the year.”

Steve Andrews, president of UAW Local 218, declined to comment on the contract negotiations or on the letter sent to the retirees.

Susan Gordon, a Bell spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement: “Negotiations took place over several months earlier this year, and in an effort to maintain an industry leading pay and benefits package, some tradeoffs were made on both sides — this was one of them. It was mutually agreed upon by both parties and ratified by employees.”

“The new five-year agreement … includes a 6 percent wage increase, continued cost of living adjustments, a pension multiplier increase for employees retiring under the new agreement, as well as the continuation of the Level Income Special Allowance (LISA) and Medicare part A and B reimbursements for current retirees.”

The letter that retirees’ received, dated Nov. 29, said in part: “This letter is to remind you that the provision in the collective bargaining agreement that provided retirees with a holiday bonus was not extended during the most recent negotiations between Bell Helicopter and UAW Local 218. This means that retirees or their surviving spouses will not be receiving an additional $500 payment during the coming weeks.”

Charlene Lamontagne, 86, said she was “shocked.” A widow whose husband retired from Bell in 1990, Lamontagne said the extra $500 helped her buy gifts for her family and with other expenses during the year.

“It kind of hurts at Christmas,” she said.

David Chilcutt, 78, of Springtown, said the extra money helped pay bills and buy gifts. Chilcutt said he worked for Bell for almost 40 years.

The loss of the Christmas bonus amounts to losing around $45 a month, he said.

“Instead of a $500 check, I got this Dear John letter,” he said.

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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