Heinz retirees fear losing pensions, protest during contract negotiations

PITTSBURGH — Heinz retirees are worried about losing their pensions as employees of Riverbend employees negotiate a new contract.

Dozens of them protested the continued contract negotiations between Riverbend Foods, the current company that operates the plants, and the workers' union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23.

RELATED STORY: Employees, Riverbend Foods at odds over contract negotiations

They haven’t been able to agree on wages, retiree benefits or retiree medical and pension plans.

Negotiations were supposed to take place at Homewood Suites, but the union says the location was moved at the last minute.


But that didn’t stop protesters who are terrified at the thought of losing their pensions.

“We worked hard for every penny we got. Overtime, under time, around time, through time.  We miss graduations, we miss all kinds of things, just to make this company and these people who come in Jonny-come-lately and try to take the rug under our feet,” a retiree told Channel 11.

A spokesperson for Riverbend told Channel 11 the contract proposal doesn’t take away the retirees' pensions, but would freeze them so retirees can’t accrue any more money.

Tom Lavan, CEO of Riverbend, issued a statement regarding the labor negotiations.

“Despite what you may have heard from the UFCW Leadership, Riverbend Foods is not taking anybody’s pension away as that would be illegal. One hundred percent of the money in the pensions will remain,” Lavan said. “In our proposal, employee pensions will be frozen and active employees will no longer accrue additional service time. As always, retirees do not accrue additional service time and therefore there is no change and they will continue to receive the same monthly payments they have enjoyed in the past.

“For current employees, Riverbend proposes to replace the pension plan with a 401(k) that includes a 50 percent company match on the first six percent an employee invests. If the company decides to close out the pension program itself, all retiree and vested current employee money would be provided via an annuity or in a lump sum cash payment. Those that want to learn more about pensions can go to the ERISA government web site.”

Negotiations are continuing Thursday and Riverbend officials say they’re hoping to come to an agreement because current employees have threatened to strike.