Show Me The Benefits

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Northwest Airline mechanics man an entrance to Northwest hangars shortly after they went on strike Friday night, Aug. 19, 2005 in Bloomington, Minn. The nation's fourth largest airline pledged to keep flying with replacements. The Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association 4,427 of Northwest's 40,000 workers. The strike began at 12:01 a.m. EDT. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
AP

Like millions of other workers these days, Sprint employees on strike in Hickory, N.C. this fall weren't demanding "show me the money."

"The people are just fed up with their benefits being cut," one employee remarks.

Instead, Sunday Morning correspondent Susan Spencer reports, it's "hands off my benefits."

From health care to disability to pensions, across many industries, workers today are realizing with dismay that company-provided benefits are costing them more and providing them less.

"Every benefit cut that you have is a cut in your wages," says the local president of the Communication Workers of America union Gary McClure. "It's a cut in your ability to provide for your family."

McClure says his members walked, much of their anger fueled by Sprint's proposal to eliminate the caps on how much they pay for health insurance; a bitter pill for members who remember once paying nothing at all.

"From going from 1996 to paying nothing, we have, now, some members that's paying as much as $2,400 a year in premiums," McClure notes.

For Joan Parker, the last straw was Sprint's plan to cut the disability coverage from a year to six months. She's a breast cancer survivor.

"I was out of work for nine months. Today," Parker says, "I would be fired because of the new plan that they're offering us on our disability, our paid time off. I wouldn't have a job."

Add to that the company's proposal for sharp cutbacks in its 401(k) contributions and Parker -- after three decades on the job -- is thinking of getting out.

"I have never let them down, but it sounds like they would not hesitate to let me down," Parker says.

Sprint insists it's letting no one down, that its belt tightening is both appropriate and unavoidable.

Health costs have gone through the roof and 90 percent of companies, now, have their employees help and participate in the payment of it.

Vice president Audrey Schaefer says that after a series of mergers, Sprint's just putting everyone on an equal footing.

"Next year three quarters of our employees will see no, or little, increases," Schaefer says.

But for workers unfortunate enough to suffer long-term illness, like Parker, Sprint will have less to offer.

"We thought it really made sense for us to be standardized amongst most companies our size and that standard is 26 weeks of disability," Schaeffer explains.