Today’s News & Commentary — January 27
The Supreme Court has ruled that a chemical company may cut the health benefits of retired workers, rejecting a presumption that health-care benefits have vested in an employment contract. The decision, M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, unanimously reverses a Sixth Circuit decision that had adopted a presumption that health care benefits are considered “vested” unless a union’s collective-bargaining agreement includes clear language to the contrary.In his opinion for the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: “Courts should not construe ambiguous writings to create lifetime promises… retiree health care benefits are not a form of deferred compensation.” The case was remanded to the Sixth Circuit, instructing the lower court to use ordinary principles of contract interpretation to determine whether the collective bargaining agreement at issue had granted free lifetime health care. In a concurrence, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the retirees could still prevail under the new standard: “No rule requires ‘clear and express’ language in order to show that parties intended health care benefits to vest.” See coverage of the case at the New York Times, L.A. Times, and SCOTUSblog.
The Associated Press reports that a major deal has been reached between the West Coast seaport dockworkers union and their employers. The dockworkers currently handle over $1 trillion worth of cargo per year, and had been concerned about increased seaport automation taking jobs. Negotiations thus stuck not over wages and hours, but primarily over the transit truck bed repair process and policy.
The National Council on Teacher Quality has released a state-by-state report on teacher pension systems. On average, the NCTQ found that 70 cents on the dollar is going towards paying pension debts, rather than funding future teacher benefits, laying the foundation for a potential fiscal crisis.
In international news, Peru’s Congress has repealed a contested law that would have substantially changed the labor code for youths. The Wall Street Journal reports.