New York, NY – Dozens of Canada Dry retirees and members of Teamsters Local 812 who’ve spent more than 30-years in the sales and distribution subsidiary, saw their hard-earned health benefits slip away on Feb. 1, after Keurig Dr. Pepper (KDP) completed its takeover of the company.
“What the union tried to do was get the best situation for those retirees after Canada Dry was sold to KDP,” union consultant Denise Devlin said. “All those retirees under the age of 65 have medical benefits until the age of 65. There were extensions for active members as well as the 65 and up retirees.”
Harold Honickman, owner of the Philadelphia-based Honickman Group, previously owned the New York Canada Dry subsidiary, but he sold it on Oct. 27, 2020.
Honickman gave Local 812 just one-day’s notice about changes that would impact the lives of more than 140 employees and numerous retirees.
“They were able to extend health benefits for those who were currently working for four months, and those who were over 65 by two years, instead of cutting off on February 1,” Devlin said. “The group that is under 65 will receive their full benefits until they are 65.”
For those under 65 at the company, that means another two years or more to keep their health package. For those over 65, that means two years extra to find a supplement to Medicare. Some current employees now have the chance to keep their health insurance until June as they look for potential new work.
Teamsters Local 812 President Joseph Vitta earlier described the average retirement age of Canada Dry employees as 60-years-old during the union’s effects bargaining back in December 2020.
“Some of the workers are driving for Pepsi, and some have been hired by the new owner KDP, but this process is ongoing, so we don’t have numbers yet,” said Devlin. “This is still taking place.”
Pepsi still manufactures Canada Dry, but the bottling, warehousing and distribution of the product are under KDP.
“KDP and Pepsi are still trying to work out what they can do to get as many employees that were a part of Canada Dry bottling,” said Devlin.
Gary Mergl, a former house driver at the company for nearly 35 years, turned 65-years-old in 2020.
“I’ll get the health benefit for two years, but then I lose it,” Mergl said. “I will have to get a secondary insurance out of the money I get from my pension.”
Mergl was primarily a house driver who delivered refrigerators for the company. He often took on routes for other employees out sick or enjoying a holiday. Mergl’s work also consisted of pushing around 600- to 700-pounds of merchandise up steep inclines.
“I might have to go back to work to cover the hundreds of dollars for a secondary insurance,” he said. “My wife also turns 65 in June of this year, so she will eventually lose the secondary coverage in two years. This is a done deal and I think it is unfair. I thought we were going to have our coverage for the rest of our lives.”
Mergl wishes Honickman had done more to take care of the retirees.
“This is happening all too often with big businesses,” said Mergl. “We did our part for the company.”
David Brescia, 61, was slightly more optimistic about the results bargaining.
“I’m grateful that I got it until I was 65, but I’m not thrilled,” said Brescia, an inventory control worker. “I retired with the assumption that I’m covered for the rest of my life. I have to buy a supplement and COBRA for my wife, who is eight months younger than me. When I turn 65, my coverage will end and she won’t be covered anymore.”
Brescia believes it’s time for his local to get a tougher lawyer and to word future contracts better to prevent loss of other members’ health coverage going forward.
“Do I blame Honickman? Yeah!” said Brescia. “This is all business for him.”
Brescia took on seven years of extra work at Canada Dry’s Melville warehouse.
He believes it’s time for all unions to embrace universal health care and stop wasting time including medical benefits in their negotiations.
“I hate to say it, but I’m for universal health care so that everyone can have coverage,” Brescia said. “Right now, medical is eating up so much of a company’s profit that it is hard to get raises.”
Like many other Canada Dry employees, Brescia gave up 15-years of raises via negotiations supporting the company’s medical benefits package for his retirement.
“If you go to the private health care market, you will get killed. That is why there should be universal health care,” Brescia said. “We need to focus on wages in negotiations and get universal health care. Heck, maybe even something for pensions because companies are looking to get out of paying for that, too.”