Way back when, during the silent movie era, the worst stereotype of greedy businessmen was the Scrooge-like figure who stole from the elderly to add to his bag of ill-gotten loot. Surely things have changed since then.
Or have they? Hosted by David Brancaccio, tonight's "Now" (8 p.m., PBS), entitled "The Broken Promise," reports on a growing number of American corporations that have walked away from long-standing contracts guaranteeing health benefits to retired Americans.
Citing the rising cost of health care, many companies have started charging elderly retirees for the health benefits they once received for free. A spokesperson for The American Benefits Council, a corporate advocacy group, says companies that provide benefits are still "the good guys," paying for health care even though they are not legally required to do so.
The workers and union representatives interviewed here contend that these benefits are hardly a corporate "perk," but the result of contracts negotiated decades ago. Many workers gave up raises and other immediate benefits for the guarantee of health care in their old age.
Some of the retirees featured have seen their monthly fees go from nothing to a hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars. According to Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen Schultz, these fees have grown far faster than the costs of health care. In fact, some companies are purposely raising the costs of their benefits packages to astronomical rates so that the elderly will drop out of the plan and save the corporation the money budgeted for each retiree. It's an easy way to remove a liability from the corporate bottom line.
Other corporations are acting ever more aggressively toward seniors. If someone complains about rising costs, the company preemptively sues them. This increases the company's chances of having their cases heard in a business-friendly court. From a perverse angle, it's a win-win situation for the corporation. It's a good way to frighten and silence potential complainers. It also forces retirees to spend time and money in court just to get the benefits they thought they deserved in the first place. And if this doesn't sound heartless enough, the corporations tend to drag out the legal processes as long as possible. Many litigants are 80 or older, so if the corporations wait long enough, the seniors will die before their case is heard.
Tonight's other highlights
- Junior barristers on "Joan of Arcadia" (7 p.m., CBS).
- Scheduled on "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC): a Florida medical examiner accused of poisoning his wife.
- Isaac Hayes guest stars on "Bernie Mac" (7 p.m., Fox).
- Homicide caught on tape on "JAG" (8 p.m., CBS).
- On back-to-back episodes of "Arrested Development" (Fox), Gob pretends to lead (8 p.m.), bad news about Dad (8:30 p.m.).
- A new formula casts doubts on an old conviction on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).
- An NBA player is accused of murder on "Law & Order: Trial By Jury" (9 p.m., NBC).
- Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): an interview with Rosie O'Donnell.
- The battle with the Cylons continues as the first season of "Battlestar Galactica" (9 p.m., Sci Fi) concludes.
On back-to-back episodes of "8 Simple Rules" (ABC), faculty battles (7 p.m.), CJ's net loss (7:30 p.m.) ... Viewers chose tonight's repeat of "Star Trek: Enterprise" (7 p.m., UPN) ... On back-to-back episodes of "What I Like About You" (WB), fibs (7 p.m.), Luke Perry (7:30 p.m.).
King-sized problems on "Malcolm in the Middle" (7:30 p.m., Fox).
Lisa Marie Presley, Ahmed Ibrahim and Jake Johannsen appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno is host to Steve Zahn, Paula Abdul and 112 on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) ... Amy Brenneman, Patton Oswalt and Brazilian Girls appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC).
Pamela Anderson chats on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Craig Ferguson is host to Carla Gugino, Regina King and Elon Gold on "The Late, Late Show" (11:37 p.m., CBS).