The retail giant Sears came under fire Saturday following reports that the company is ending life insurance benefits for an undisclosed number of its 90,000 retirees—just months after handing executives over $25 million in bonuses.
"It's the last benefit that retirees had," Ron Olbrysh, chair of the National Association of Retired Sears Employees (NARSE), told CBS News.
As CBS reported:
The unwelcome news came in a letter notifying eligible retirees that their life insurance benefit had been canceled March 15... It offered retirees the option to convert into a whole life policy all or a portion of the prior amount of their group coverage that Sears was paying for (not to exceed $10,000).
Olbrysh relayed hearing from one 91-year-old retiree—a Sears employee for 37 years—who said he had to pay more than $3,000 a year to maintain his current coverage. The NARSE chair said that premium "would not be competitive in the marketplace."
The notices were sent to "people in their 80s that had had [life insurance coverage for] a long time," said John Freeman, who retired from the retailer in 2002 and leads the retirees' association chapter in upstate New York. Sears had already shaved employee benefits during its decades of financial turmoil, including major cuts to life insurance coverage in the late 1990s. But it still covered life insurance polices worth at least $5,000 for eligible retirees, with most policies ranging from $8,000 to $10,000.
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Sears filed for bankruptcy last October, but earlier this year a bankruptcy court approved billionaire Sears chairman Edward Lampert's bid to buy the company through his hedge fund.
Progressives responded with outrage to reports of Sears' move, which fits a pattern of corporate giants rewarding top executives while average employees face benefit cuts and lay-offs.
The progressive advocacy group CREDO Mobile called Sears' life insurance cuts "awful" in a tweet on Saturday.
AWFUL: Sears just reportedly notified up to 90,000 of their retirees, many of whom are in their 80s, that it would be ending their life insurance benefits. A few months ago they got approval to pay as much as $25.3M in bonuses to high-ranking employees. https://t.co/EEeT5t5zlS pic.twitter.com/gmps6Sj4Rz
— CREDO Mobile (@CREDOMobile) March 31, 2019
"This is not ok," said Winnie Wong, senior political adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign.