Lansing Man Loses Retiree Benefit Battle, Vows to Appeal

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A federal judge upheld an agreement Friday that would force some GM retirees to pay more for their healthcare. A Lansing man was a big part of the battle, and he vows to keep fighting.

"We have a contract with General Motors since the day we retired. And that contract is enforced until our death," retiree Leroy McKnight said in an interview Saturday afternoon.

That's the legal position of McKnight -- and the opinion roughly 1500 other GM retirees. McKnight says when the United Auto Workers struck a deal with GM, forcing nearly half a million retirees to contribute toward their health care costs, they did so illegally.

A federal judge in Detroit doesn't share McKnight's opinion. That means thousands of retired GM hourly workers in Michigan could be paying up to $700 a year toward the cost of their healthcare.

McKnight says the decision didn't surprise him.

"I remember on December 22nd, the judge saying he was going to give General Motors everything they needed," McKnight said.

In his decision released Friday, District Judge Robert Cleland says, "The court cannot ignore that the alternative to settlement -- the risks of continued litigation and GM's financial condition -- will likely be worse for the retirees."

McKnight says that decision reflects an interest in saving GM from bankruptcy -- not an interest in following the law.

"We'd like to think we have a rule of law and not a rule of special interests in this country," McKnight said.

So he's taking the fight -- and his case -- to the next level: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati. He says the law is on his side.

"(The UAW is) precluded from bargaining for us by the PPG Supreme Court case of 1971," McKnight said.

That decision says a union doesn't have the right to negotiate for retirees -- only current workers.

Despite a heated debate, McKnight says the fight isn't about hurting GM.

"I too want to protect GM, but I also want to protect the vested rights of retired members of that company," he said.

McKnight says his attorney has already filed the paperwork to bring the case to the federal appeals court in Cincinnati.

-- in Lansing, Tony Tagliavia, News 10.