Retirees Protest At New York & Bostom Headquarters
A statement issued by the company sought to downplay the day's events to the news media, even calling the retirement package "extensive" and "among the best offered." It states, "We certainly recognize and appreciate the concerns all retirees have about living on fixed incomes," and notes "We will continue to evaluate our pension benefits to be sure that they remain competitive."
New England retirees take to the Streets of Boston
by: Eileen Lawrence
Since our last newsletter, many of us have experienced the medical enrollment process with the new "choices" which were offered to us. The good news was that pre-divestiture retirees kept their medical options, but the remaining management retirees lost their Blue Cross/Blue Shield option, and were left with choosing from Point of Service or an HMO. The overall feeling, conveyed to us many times in calls and letters, is that most people feel they have lost the ability to choose the doctor they want and that the quality of care is greatly diminished. In many cases, particularly outside the metropolitan areas, retirees were pretty much forced to join an HMO, or incur high costs by going out-of-network. This same erosion has crept into the dental benefit as well.
Now that the dust has settled, we are receiving calls from those who have had to use the plans, and they are experiencing more bureaucracy and frustration. Difficulties have arisen with the drug plan; in one case it involved a serious emergency and many calls before someone finally intervened. Some enrollees, after researching and choosing an HMO, received "amendments" to the coverage, after the fact. Another was told it would take six weeks before she could obtain approval for physical therapy. Perhaps these are kinks which will be worked out, but it is difficult to believe it will get any better in the future. Every day there is another story in the news about HMO costs to users going up, benefits going down and companies bailing out. Very little comfort is derived when right next to those stories are the stories of our wonderful corporate leaders exercising stock options worth millions of dollars.
No matter how angry this major erosion of benefits makes us, it has served one good purpose: it's a wake-up call. Up until this point, many people believed the company felt some loyalty to its employees and retirees. But that bubble has been burst with a big bang! Read the reservation of rights statement on the back of the folder which contained your enrollment data. Now doesn't that make you feel warm and fuzzy? It's obvious that the company feels no obligation to us.
We must continue to fight to be heard, to be visible and vocal and loud. There are many Senatorial seats up for re-election this year. Write to the candidates about our issues. Write to your Congressman. Talk it up at local meetings. Retirees are a critical part of the economy; if we suffer financially, the country will feel it. Let's get some of that Corporate Greed money back in our pockets.
One member gave us the name of the must-read book: "What Your HMO Doesn't Want You To Know" ? A Survivor's Guide by Sue Berkman, August 1997, Random House.
Boston To Host Association Annual Meeting
by John Venti
The Association will hold its general membership meeting June
5th at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. The meeting will
begin at 10 a.m., with coffee/pastries and a social get-together
starting at 9 a.m.
Many important issues will be discussed: legislative and political activities; Bell Atlantic-South joining our Association; interaction with the Pension Rights Center & Coalition for Retirement Security; results of the February rally; and future strategies.
If you wish to attend, please fill in the application on page 6 and mail it to the Association. About two weeks before the meeting a postcard with final details will be sent to all those who have secured a reservation.
by C. William Jones
Second, we held our first modest demonstration in front of company locations in New York City and Boston. We will cover these items in more detail but these are two clear indications that we are on track with our long-term strategy.
Further, our membership has surpassed the 17,000 mark, not bad for a group that has received no help from the company in obtaining names and addresses of retirees. This feat was accomplished, almost entirely, through good old fashioned networking. Thank you to all those who have contributed in this way. Please keep up the good work. There are still thousands of retirees who still don't know that we exist and that we are working on their behalf.
Next, we now have made contact with retirees of the "old" Bell Atlantic and have agreed to alter our bylaws to include them in our Association. Jack Brennan, a 38 year veteran of New Jersey Bell and Bell Atlantic, who retired as Manager Labor Relations, has joined our Board. Others will be joining us shortly - representing Bell of Pennsylvania and Chesapeake and Potomac. This merger will swell our potential membership to about 165,000 retirees.
Largely because of this merger, the Board has approved a change of name for our Association. We will be known as the Association of belltel Retirees Incorporated. This new name describes a more global organization, aligns us with our new newsletter name, our web page and our E-mail address. It also paves the way for expansion beyond the borders of Bell Atlantic, should we choose to do so at a later date.
Speaking of our web site, we have been encouraged by the responses to our web page and E-mail which are coming in from all over the country. Some of this mail is from retirees of other former Bell System companies who are looking for information about representation for their retirees. We encourage you to continue directing your colleagues to this important source of information.
Association Key Player At National Retiree Confrence
by C. William Jones
In February 5, 6 and 7, the Coalition for Retirement Security
and the Pension Rights Center hosted a conference at Washington
D.C. for the purpose of updating its members on developing legislative
matters, court cases and Coalition member activities.
Our Association was represented by Bill Jones, Joe Ristuccia and a new member from Chesapeake and Potomac, Bob McMahon. Representatives from U.S. West, Pan American, I.E.E.E., G.E. and Greyhound also participated.
Each member updated the group on its progress since the last meeting in October. Reports were given on the status of initiatives by the S.E.C. and the Department of Labor, both of which your Association and other Coalition members opposed.
A very important piece of legislation was reviewed which would reverse the bill which many of our members wrote to us about, regarding the inability of doctors to treat Medicare patients for uncovered procedures, even if the patient is willing to pay themselves. The new bill, sponsored by Bill Archer of Texas, and others, would seek to reverse that ruling. The new bill, S. 1194 and HR 2497-Medical Beneficiary Freedom to Contract Act, is expected to pass the House and the Senate, however, word has it that the President is planning to veto the bill. All Coalition members have been asked to encourage their members to write to their Senators, Congressmen and the President, asking them to support this piece if legislation.
A number of guests were invited to address issues of great interest to our group, including:
General Motors - A landmark case which will be very important to us and we must support their cause! Other cases, including the United Airlines Flight Attendants Case, Former Employees of Pan American -vs- the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation and the U.S. West Cases were also reviewed.
Representatives from the Department Of Labor came to speak about the proposed change in the disclosure of financial details of pension funds. Many large companies have pressed for this change which would dramatically reduce information available to interested parties, such as retirees. Your Association and other Coalition members called, wrote and faxed Senators, Members of Congress and the Department of Labor protesting this proposal. We are happy to report that our voices were heard and the proposal has been denied.
In a similar development, your Association protested the Security & Exchange Commission's (SEC) proposed rule change that would make it more difficult for parties to introduce Proxy Proposals. As a result of the response from your Association, coalition members and other interested parties, the SEC has decided set aside the proposed rule changes.
These are two very encouraging developments that demonstrate that our voices were heard and action was taken as a result. If only we could get our own company to be as responsive.
Finally, the Saturday session was divided into workshops in which each group addressed a specific issue of vital interest to them. Your Association spent the morning with a well-known Washington-based attorney discussing potential retiree class action law suits.
by: Lou Miano
The letter published in the February 1996 "NYNEX Update for Retirees", was a public response to a private letter sent to Mr. Seidenberg by the concerned founders of the ASSOCIATION OF NYNEX RETIREES. Their letter asked that it was time to consider a pension increase as it had been 5 years since the last was granted-February 1, 1991.
It is now more than 7 years and after many many appeals including two face-to-face meetings with Messrs, Sacco and Seidenberg, NYNEX Chairman, nothing is forthcoming but polite blather.
However, how fortunate we are because of that poor decision, the Association of NYNEX Retirees was incorporated and an aggressive membership drive was begun. Thanks to the founding members dedicated efforts we are now printing 25,000 copies of our Newsletter; almost 18,000 being mailed directly to individual members and to the members of the Board of Directors of Bell Atlantic, the others distributed at organizing meetings.
Extraordinary! We've moved from a couple of concerned retirees trying to negotiate with a couple of former associates and senior NYNEX managers......to today launching a proxy movement. One that we can win and we will win.
But you know a lot about these past two years. You have been receiving our Newsletters filled with information on initiatives that have been taken, coalitions being formed, development of membership, networking, support from advocates in the public and private sectors, membership in a national pension rights association. And, thankfully, you are telling former co-workers. Many are impressed and they are concerned, some angry, and hopefully are joining us.
But we need to do more. While we are poised to launch this proxy initiative, as it is vital that we win.
Why? Because on January 7, 1998 a Federal Appellate Court ruled that General Motors Corporation had the right to change or end lifetime health benefits that 84,000 GM retirees claim the company promised them before they retired. The ruling, if it stands, could have very serious ramifications for retirees everywhere. And so it seems we can no longer take comfort in the fact that courts, in a showdown, will support our cause. Congress is under siege by lobbyists supported by large corporations like Bell Atlantic, seeking legislation that would allow companies to dip into pension funds to capitalize a business. Fellow retirees, that is our money; $35 billion, in the combined Bell Atlantic/NYNEX pension funds. It is not just the pension fund we need to protect it is also the health care benefits that have been eroding as costs have been increasing, and our insurance benefits that also may be at risk. We need COLA-Cost Of Living Adjustment-tied to inflation, so that another 7 and more years do not go by before we are given a pension increase. Again, it is our money.
We must exercise our power as the holder of the largest single block of shares, 25 million, 3.1% of the total shares and be heard in the Bell Atlantic Board room to bring about the reforms needed. We can do it if you continue to work as missionaries and spread the good word There are two very large gorups of our retirees that you can convert, those that don't care and those fearful of reprisal. You have to talk to them. You have to tell them our Pioneer Credo-Fellowship-Loyalty-Service-includes "them". They need to be loyal to themselves.
Better yet, you Pioneer Leaders call the Association Office or any Association Officer or Director, give us the place, time and date of your meeting. We will have an Association spokesperson there to talk to your members. It is perfectly all right to do, you know.
I have been a Telephone Pioneer for 31 years. President of two councils, a Thomas Sherwin Chapter President, The New England Telephones' Pioneer Liaison Officer in the 3 immediate post-divestiture years, all this with a big Bell shaped head. It pains me to find myself involved in of all things, a proxy battle with the company I gave 44 years of service to, only to hold onto what I feel is mine anyway. While its was unthinkable that I would be involved in this kind of activity, I now realize it is important for us to be involved.
Now, we must rally against this company. But if we have to do it, let's do it right, let's be orderly, let's all work at it and we can win BELIEVE ME, WE CAN WIN.
I hope you read the memorable article written by Al Wood in our winter issue of the Newsletter titled "You Can't Go Home Again"
He wrote: "to my fellow retirees who cling to the notion that it is "wrong" to join an organization that's in dispute with their "old" company, I ask only that you look at the facts. Ma Bell is dead and we are her orphans." I would add, she was a good mother but a cruel, wicked stepmother may have moved into the house."
Capitalize The Value Of Your Stock
As we told you in the winter '97-'98 newsletter, your Association and three of its officers have put forth two proxy proposals which we feel will pave the way for our long-term strategy, that of assuming a more active role in the corporate governance of Bell Atlantic. Many of us have lost faith in the present senior management team and the Board of Directors. But it is you who now must act. We believe that the two proxy proposals that we put forth, and another sponsored by John Gilbert, will help position our Association to represent the needs of all Bell Atlantic retirees and shareholders.
Therefore, the Officers and The Board of Directors of the Association of belltel Retirees Inc. ask you to do your part by exercising one of the following options:
OPTION 1) Sign and date your proxy and send it to the Association to be voted, as a block, at the Annual Meeting.
OPTION 2) Mark your proxy, voting on the various proposals as recommended below, sign, date, and return it in the self-addressed envelope.
If you chose OPTION 1):
a) There is no need to vote on the proposals, we will do that for you.
b) Sign and date the Proxy, and send it to:
Association of BellTel
P.O. Box 33
Cold Spring Harbor,
New York 11724
If you choose OPTION 2):
a) Vote "FOR" Proposition Item 6 which requires the Company's Board of Directors to seek shareholder approval for all future or renewed severance agreements with the Company's top executive officers that provide more generous pay-outs than the Senior Management Retirement Plan available to other senior managers .
b) Vote "FOR" Proposition Item 7 requiring that the Board consist of a majority of truly independent directors and that no more than two directors shall be current or former management employees of Bell Atlantic.
c) Vote "FOR" for the proposition which provides for cumulative voting in the election of directors.
d) Sign and date your proxy and return it in the self-addressed envelope.Finally, please encourage any friends who own Bell Atlantic to vote for these proposals as well.
If you have any questions regarding this matter, call us at: (516) 367-3067
by: Phil Richer
Winning the struggle to ensure fair treatment for Bell Atlantic's retirees will require a great deal of effort, a considerable amount of public support, sympathy for our cause in journalistic and political arenas and, most important of all, a sound, carefully thought through and faithfully executed strategy.
The lynch pin of that strategy is continued success in rapidly expanding our membership. Bear in mind that an expanded membership means more income from members' dues which will in turn, help to finance essential activities, such as our office on Long Island, our public relations firm and our educational/legal/lobbyist programs in Washington D.C.
As important as those funds are to support those critical activities, they're only one part of the vital contribution that expanded membership will make. Even more importantly, is the mobilization of the thousands of retirees and the political and public relations momentum that they can generate if we all make it our business to focus on those areas.
We should also consider that the number of Bell Atlantic retirees is about 165,000 whereas the total number of active employees is about half that number.
As retirees, we have a more direct interest in the future of the benefits program than all but a few Bell Atlantic executives with bottom-line financial responsibilities.
That situation offers a great tactical advantage to us in that we have more control over our schedules and that means more time to write to Congressmen, Senators, news media executives and regulators to voice our concerns about issues of vital importance to us.
Our Public Affairs plan is to establish a "communicator" program wherein those among our members who have built up relationships with elected and appointed officials at the state and federal levels would become designed points of contact with those public figures.
In that capacity, our communicators would be the ones to personally communicate our positions on those issues of importance which can be influenced by them.
To sum it all up, we have one major advantage over adversaries, and that is our membership. As that membership expands so does our prospect for success. In that context, each of us should make a determined effort to enroll as many new members as possible.
Please... please talk to your friends about joining! The key to a successful outcome rests with our members. The more the better!
In addition, if you have a relationship with political or regulatory officials or, if you know someone who does, please let us know so that we can add those names to our list.
You can reach me at (508) 540-3246
by mail at
28 Worcester Avenue,
Falmouth, MA 02540
or via email at
Let us never forget that the Bell Atlantics of the world have enormous resources to apply to their effort to raid our pension funds and emasculate the other parts of our retirement program. They haven't hesitated to use them in the past and we shouldn't expect any change in the future!
1998 Dues Request
by: Eileen Lawrence
It's that time of the year again, Friends! Time for your faithful leadership to beg for money. I have a whole new understanding of the multitudes of organizations who come to our homes each year looking for contributions. I look at all the paper involved (which, of course, must be recycled), the quality of the paper, the self-addressed, stamped envelop, the gift greeting cards, calendars, name and address labels, prayer books, poem books, angel pins, sad photos, etc. all sent to make you feel guilty if you ignore them and throw it away. Now when I receive these solicitations I think, "Wow! This costs big bucks!" And I consider what is given to me in return for what I'm giving.
As nice as it would be for us to be able to send you in individual gift thanking you for all your support in money, personal interest, time and talent, we cannot afford to do that. And I doubt that you expect it. We are "David" to that Goliath, Bell Atlantic, and we need to use our money in search of the right rock. We strongly believe we're doing just that and that we will be successful. But we desperately need your financial support to continue.
Last year at this time, we advised you of the decision to establish a recommended annual contribution of $12.00 per fiscal year. This column is our one-time formal request for that contribution. Some retirees have already done so, and we thank them. But to those of you who have not, please take the time to do so now, while it's fresh in your mind. If you can send more, that would be great! And if you must send less, please believe that we send everyone the same size THANK YOU!
P.S. Thank you, also, for your wonderful notes and suggestions. We love them!
Ma Bell's Orphans Unite Creating National Coalition
By: J.A. Ristuccia
In recent months, the Association has certainly reached new heights, surpassing 17,000 members, merging with retiree groups from Bell Atlantic "South," a name change to The Association of belltel Retirees Inc., holding its first demonstration at company headquarters in New York and Boston - all this in addition to our long-term agenda that is finally taking off.
Included in that effort is our Association taking the lead in the formulation of a national coalition of Bell System retirees under the umbrella of the Coalition for Retirement Security.
The coalition's goals are to encourage growth among our national membership and to become an activist force to be reckoned with. We want members of Congress and the White House involved in our interests and problems - after all, there are 700,000 Bell System retirees. Organized, we can deliver an important message to our national representatives in Washington.
The agenda creates an early warning System whenever legislation is proposed that will affect pension security. This should help mobilize forces nationally that can let our representatives know how this action affects our interests. We are developing a committee to create a national advocacy manual, based on the model created by your Association.
Immediatly on the agenda, the group has met with two Senate Counsels from the Special Committee on Aging to discuss pending legislation as it affects older Americans. This should be of great interest to our members and we will report in more detail in our next Newsletter what they had to say and what we can expect from Capitol Hill.
Empowering ourselves through Bell memberhips in the Coalition for Retirement Security, we are in an ideal position to let Congress know how we feel about these issues - what is working and, more important, what isn't.
Association of belltel Retirees Inc. P.O. Box 33
Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724 * (516) 367-3067
www.belltelretirees.org A 501 C 3 IRS Tax Exempt Corporation
C. William Jones, President (410) 770-9485
Eileen T. Lawrence, Treasurer (718) 229-6078
Michael S. Kucklinka, Secretary (516) 741-2424
John M. Brennan , Director of B.A. South Membership (201) 666-8174
Louis Miano, Director of B.A. North Membership (781) 444-8080
John A. Parente, Director of Public Relations (518) 372-0526
Philip J. Richer, Director of Public Affairs (508) 540-3246
Joseph A. Ristuccia, Director of Legislative Relations (516) 765-1111
John Venti, Director of Planning (781) 326-4212
Advertising Representative: Jim Falborn (212) 260-1731