Webinar Recap: Unlocking Retirement Benefits for Union Members

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a webinar hosted by RetireeFirst. My fellow panelists included those with strong ties to the union labor community:

  • Carl Pecoraro, Fund Chairman at Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund
  • Gian Ricchezza, Chief Business Officer and Co-Founder at RetireeFirst
  • Matt Zerr, Director of Member Engagement at RetireeFirst

The webinar focused on educating labor union members about the importance of planning for retirement at a young age, from a financial and healthcare standpoint. Following is a summary of key points we discussed. I think you’ll find them valuable should you or a colleague oversee group retiree benefits planning and administration for active and retired members.

The Role Unions Play in Helping Active Members Plan for Retirement at a Young Age

As Chairman of his union’s pension fund, Carl noted the importance of unions taking care of their members from the time they join a union throughout their retirement. Helping members plan for retirement at an early age will set them up for productive, healthy, and fulfilling active and retired years. Carl is a huge proponent of unions connecting and communicating with members daily to promote benefits security. Connecting with members is a huge value-add, especially in retirement.

I founded the Union Labor Advisory Network to support, educate, and promote union labor and the value they bring to their communities. Unions are so special because they’re always looking out for their members’ best interests. Working with a diverse group of labor organizations, I’ve learned there is one common goal: To protect the wellbeing of union members and promote their overall quality of life. It’s critical to not only provide members with the right benefits, but to advise them on educational resources to help manage finances and healthcare for the short and long term.

Maximizing Retiree Benefits and Enhancing Wellness

Carl and his fund staff work closely with the RetireeFirst team to ensure that their 3,000+ pre- and post-65 retirees enjoy a strong suite of benefits, including the same level of hearing, vision, and dental plans for pre – and post-65 retirees. He stressed that with post-65 retirees, a smooth transition to their Medicare plans is extremely important, as is ongoing communications. He and his team conduct retiree meetings and mailings to review plan changes, answer questions, and ensure a worry-free process.

Matt and his Wellness Team at RetireeFirst have launched a highly innovative Gaps in Care program. Gaps in care occur when members inadvertently forget important medical appointments, such as annual wellness exams and screenings, vaccinations, and diabetic eye exams. They may also include inadvertently neglecting home safety initiatives, such as smoke alarm battery checks, stairwell stability, hallway clearance for wheelchairs, and much more. These gaps in care initiatives are carrier-sponsored to enhance retiree health and wellness.

Matt’s team doesn’t wait for something bad to happen: They proactively address care gaps by contacting retirees to schedule annual medical appointments and House Calls. As needed, his team will assist retirees in scheduling appointments and House Calls directly with providers. This proactive approach is a win-win for retirees and carriers, as it delivers improved retiree health and wellness outcomes and minimizes costly visits to ERs and urgent care centers.

Helping Members Navigate the Rising Costs of Retirement

I love Matt’s and RetireeFirst’s proactive approach, as I share that mindset when helping unions educate members on financial planning, especially at a young age. Sixty-one percent (61%) of consumers live paycheck to paycheck; therefore, it’s imperative that we help members learn how to save. I work with union members, especially when they first enter the workforce, on ways to manage expenses and save money from each paycheck to benefit from compounding interest over the long-term. My website provides educational resources, including apps and podcasts, that inform members on saving, managing spending, and funding their retirement.

At Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters, Carl and fund staff also educate young actives to understand the long-term benefits of planning now. They help members set retirement savings goals, taking into consideration pension, 401K, and social security benefits. Additionally, they collaborate with external groups and use technology-based tools to help active members save proportionately to their income based on long-term financial goals.

Dispelling Medicare Myths

There are many Medicare misconceptions in the market, driven largely by confusing TV and print ads. These myths note that Medicare Advantage (MA) can’t work due to a small provider network or geographical boundaries, since retirees often relocate. Gian discussed how RetireeFirst’s group plans are custom-built within an open (or passive PPO) network, tied to Medicare across the U.S. RetireeFirst plans are not restricted by regional geographical boundaries: If a provider accepts Medicare, he/she will accept our MA plan in any state.

Another myth is that all MA plans are the same. In fact, MA plans can be built in many ways, such as copay plans, deductible plans, and others. RetireeFirst’s MA plans typically emulate their clients’ existing group retiree plan benefits and often provide additional enhanced benefits, including hearing, vision, dental, gym memberships, and much more. They’re extremely customizable and can be built to your group’s specific needs.

Lower Costs and Increased Benefits: Enhancing the Retiree Experience

Before Carl and his team began working with RetireeFirst 13 years ago, controlling benefits costs was a major challenge. The fund, with $120 million in assets, was down over $40 million, with retiree healthcare costs contributing significantly to the drain. However, his team and members were concerned that moving to an MA plan would cause disruption and limit member access to providers.

Carl needed to control costs, yet continue to offer excellent healthcare benefits to members. In his first year working with RetireeFirst, his team was able to not only reduce costs, but also offer enhanced retiree benefits, including eye care and hearing. Contrary to the myths noted above, Carl noted that his fund is in a much better financial position, with over $100 million in assets and over $10 million in gainshare earmarked for retiree benefits.

I’m so impressed with how Carl and his team have set up active members for success throughout their retirement, and how the long-standing relationship between Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters and RetireeFirst has benefited retirees and the fund. It’s a great model for how member education, collaboration, and a robust Medicare Advantage plan can add tremendous value to labor unions and members of all ages.

Let’s continue to work together to enable happy, healthy, and productive union members!

Watch the full webinar HERE.

Additional Resources

  • RetireeFirst has developed a valuable case study summarizing its collaboration with Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters, with more detail on the background and cost reductions. You can read it HERE.

  • Click HERE for a great new video with Carl and Abby Pecoraro, Health and Wellness Fund Manager, discussing how they protect members through their family-oriented partnership with RetireeFirst.

  • We update the Union Labor Advisory network website,, regularly to educate and inform the labor community through video interviews with labor leaders, links to helpful financial resources, information on industry events, industry news, and much more. And our LinkedIn page includes the latest updates – connect with us HERE.

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