Yul Amacker, a 22-year Teamster at Fred Meyer, flashes the victory sign after his big arbitration win.
In 2022, after devoting decades of his life to his job at Fred Meyer, Yul Amacker thought he was good to go. Armed with contractual protections for a secure retirement – pension and medical benefits – he approached HR to inquire about leaving warehouse work behind for good.
To his surprise, Amacker was told he did not qualify for healthcare coverage under the company’s medical plan for retirees.
“I didn’t know how to deal with that,” he recalls. “It would’ve been a struggle to retire without medical. I would’ve been living paycheck to paycheck.”
Amacker’s contract seemed crystal clear. At 62, with 22 years of employment at the company, he was eligible to draw his Teamsters pension under the rules outlined by the pension Trust. The contract also stated that employees like Amacker, who were older than 57 and had pension eligibility, qualified for medical coverage that Kroger – Fred Meyer’s parent company – offers retirees.
The company’s refusal to honor that right felt like a slap in the face.
THE NEED FOR QUALITY MEDICAL
Working in a warehouse takes a toll on your body. Sprains, bruises, lower back injuries, and repetitive motion injuries are common.
Amacker, who got his first warehouse gig at 21 and has been at it ever since, has worked through his share of pain. “There’s been a lot of wear and tear on my body,” he says. “Shoulder aches, knee aches, jumping off forklifts, lifting heavy product – after 35 years that does some damage.”
The demanding nature of the job makes quality medical coverage essential for workers, especially those moving into their retirement years. “It’s important that I can see a doctor regularly,” Amacker affirms. “I can’t get by without medical.”
The denial of Amacker’s medical was a red flag for Union Representative Anthony Rivera. Rivera had battled Fred Meyer over the same issue before, in 2020, when the company contested retiree medical for another employee.
Working together with Shop Steward, Matt Collins, Rivera filed a grievance on Amacker’s behalf. Unable to settle, the Union and employer quickly pushed the dispute to arbitration.
At the arbitration hearing, the company went to great lengths to deny Amacker and his co-workers their rights. They hired an outside union-busting law firm, tried to discredit witnesses, and dredged up flimsy procedural arguments.
“They didn’t even bother to call fact witnesses,” recalls Briana Drakes, the union’s lead attorney in the case. “They didn’t care about the dignity of their own employees.”
VICTORY FOR THE UNION
In the end, the arbitrator sided resoundingly with the Union. In his ruling issued January 22, 2024, arbitrator Michael Merrill ordered Fred Meyer to provide retiree medical coverage to all Teamsters 117 members who meet the two contractual qualifiers – older than 57 and eligible to retire under the pension Trust.
“This is a huge win for our members,” said Paul Dascher, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 117. “It means workers at Fred Meyer who have dedicated their lives to the company can retire with dignity without having to worry about going to the doctor.”
The outcome has left Amacker feeling happy and relieved. “I feel great about it,” he says. “This not only benefits me but everybody at Fred Meyer.”
Now, with the arbitration win in his back pocket, Amacker is starting to look ahead. “My options are wide open,” he says excitedly. “I bought a beat-up RV, which is something I’ll be working on. It needs a little fine tuning and a paint job, then I’ll see what’s next.”
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