Rochester, N.Y.— Consider it a small victory for Kodak retirees.
On Wednesday, a bankruptcy judge postponed a motion that would have allowed Kodak to cut health benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees starting in May.
Instead, the judge suggested Kodak form a committee of retirees to act as the authorized representatives for retirees during the bankruptcy process.
For retirees like Wayne Weiler, the ruling is a sigh of relief.
“Right now we're all thrilled that the benefits will continue for a while,” he says.
Weiler worked for Kodak for 31 years. He recently decided to go back to work part-time at a hardware store, just in case Kodak did decide to cut some or all of his health insurance someday.
“A lot of us have taken other jobs so that if Kodak does drop benefits, we’ll start getting benefits somewhere else,” Weiler says. “That's the only thing you can do at this point.”
Bob Volpe, president of the Eastman Kodak Retirees’ Association, says that with the committee in place, a final decision on retirees’ health benefits could take anywhere from six months to a year.
“This is an ‘all clear’ until the committee and Kodak come to a resolution of what the benefits will be and make a recommendation to the courts,” Volpe says.
Volpe says EKRA is pleased that the retirees will get representation during the bankruptcy talks. He says the committee will be made up of people recommended by both Kodak and retiree groups.
“Both EKRA and Kodak have expressed an interest in making sure that the committee is representative of all pay levels, locations and ethnicities.”
The committee should be selected by the end of April.
Despite the new committee, Volpe believes there’s no way retirees’ health benefits will come out unscathed.
“I think in the end there is no question that the company will no longer afford the full amount of benefits we've enjoyed as Kodak retirees,” he says.
Volpe says there will be changes in scope, costs and availability of health insurance.
Also on Wednesday, Kodak asked the bankruptcy judge to allow the company to pay current employee bonuses.
Weiler says that even though his health benefits may be at risk, he doesn’t mind Kodak giving employee bonuses. He says after all, he enjoyed bonuses while he was a Kodak employee.
“It will probably lift the morale of those left quite a bit to know that they will get something for a bonus.”