Forgotten $2,000 Life Insurance Benefit Comes Back to Railroad Families

Like most Americans, you have probably had many life insurance solicitations coming your way in the mail. Your credit union, bank, auto club, AARP, and for sure, insurance companies, want you to buy in on your death, which is sure to happen. Businesses like a sure thing. Life insurance must be a good business to be in.

You may remember back in 2004 Wal-Mart and about 100 other companies got caught in a life insurance scam. “Dead peasants” insurance was where they’d take  out life insurance policies on their low-level workers and collect the cash when they died.

Some employers were said to even have discontinued the life insurance policies for workers but retained the policies naming themselves as beneficiaries.

Legal changes in 1998 led Wal-Mart to halt the practice, but not before it had insured all but 3,500 of the 350,000 potential workers it covered. The estate of one dead worker sued for damages and won on Jan. 5, 2004 when the case ended up at  the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Two retired rail workers in the communities at the western end of Lake Superior recently discovered data about the case and the benefits – and others may be eligible nationwide.

In Two Harbors, Minn., Paul Iversen retired in 2012 from the Duluth Missabe & Iron Range railroad – now part of Canadian National — after 38 years as an active member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Local Lodge 1710.

A former city councilor in his hometown, Iversen has always had his head up, paying attention to what’s happening in his world. He joined the  National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees Unit #92 and is a regular at their monthly meetings at the West Duluth American Legion.

Iversen heard rumors about the benefit in 2014 from fellow NARVRE members. Iversen decided to see if he or his father, who passed away in 2004, after working as a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen at DM&IR, were in the benefit system.

“I found out Met Life was supposed to be handling the benefit so I called them and was told neither I or my father were in,” Iversen said.

NARVRE President Tom Dwyer told him to keep calling and Iversen later found he and his father had finally been included. His mother received his father’s $2,000 life insurance benefit.

“I thought that there had to be several hundred families in Two Harbors who should get the benefit,” Iversen said.  “It’s a matter of finding the beneficiaries, be they widows, children or grandchildren.”

He said while there may be only several hundred railroad workers in the Duluth area today, there were thousands 50 years ago, and many families of those workers should receive the benefit.

“As far as I know this was a national negotiated benefit that goes back as far as maybe 1964,” Iversen said.  He thinks the benefit was between almost all national rail unions and most railroads. But it appears to have slipped through the cracks, at least locally.

The amount of the benefit may change depending on the union and railroad involved.

“I found out that even some families of our union leaders who passed away didn’t receive it,” Iversen said. “It seems no one knows about it and we’re trying to change that. We want families of all retirees to get this benefit.”

He said the benefit also includes an accident policy for active railroad workers.

Along with NARVRE #92 President Mick MacKenzie, Iversen is sending a letter to NARVRE members about how to access the benefit.

“Paul has really done a great job as a volunteer on this benefit for our families,” said MacKenzie, who is a former Transportation Communications Union Local 419 member, retired from the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. Like Iversen, he is also is a former city councilor, but from Superior, Wis.

In less than a year, they feel that as much as $190,000 may have been collected for survivors of deceased railroad workers in northwest Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.

Iversen said Met Life workers can be helpful, but persistence is what is needed.

“Some families get the benefit easily, others have a helluva time,” he said. “People should be ready for delays and curve balls.  Don’t get frustrated – keep working on them.”

Many survivors may not know what union or railroad a deceased family member was affiliated with. Iversen is willing to help with and provided his phone: (218) 834-5248.

“Negotiating a contract is never easy and we want to make sure that everyone gets the benefits that their union has fought to get for their members,” Iversen said. “We believe there may be over a million dollars in benefits due in this region. Those union dues are still working for our members’ families.” He’s enjoying the volunteer job he took on in his retirement.

“It’s a fun project, and very gratifying when a very elderly widow, or a  young son or daughter of a railroad retiree receives a $2,000 check that Met Life tried to keep from them,” Iversen said. “I got stopped and thanked by a widow on my morning walk. That’s cool.”

The benefit amount does include interest for deceased retirees’ beneficiaries.

There are five steps, Iversen said, to access the railroad $2,000 life insurance benefit:

• Call Met Life at 1-800-310-7770.

• Ask about the “Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan, Group # 1023000. The number may vary depending on agreement covering each bargaining unit.

• Be prepared to give them your name, Social Security number, railroad you worked for, and the union you belonged to. Make sure Met Life has you in their records and that your beneficiary is correct. Make sure your beneficiary knows about this.

• If you are a survivor of a deceased railroad worker you will need the information in the third step above for the deceased worker. You may also need to know their date of birth, date of death, date of retirement (approximate) and last known address. Most information would be on the death certificate.

• For retirees who passed away before 1996 a letter to Met Life may be needed. They may also ask for an “Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property for Small Estates.” NARVRE has copies of a letter you can use and the affidavit is fairly straightforward.

Source: Larry Sillanpa, Editor, Duluth Labor World