The Official On Line Newsletter of Bell Atlantic Retirees.
(Note 4/3/01: Our Bill is reentered into the House hopper. Its number is HR 1322)
You see it every year – your annual medical contribution increases and the level of coverage decreases. Every year, a little more of your medical benefits is shaved away. As you see these reductions, you wonder about the future, while telling yourself you can get by with this reduced level of coverage. But instead of accepting the company’s reneging on its promises of lifelong, high-level health benefits, you need to speak out about this injustice – before it’s too late.
We need retirees who are willing to testify and tell of their medical hardships, cancelled plans, and terrible inconveniences, like being forced to switch doctors continually. Your testimony is vital to our class action suit. We need all retirees who are feeling the financial squeeze of high retiree monthly contributions coupled with a decreasing level of coverage to be willing to testify and protect their benefits. Any information that you give us will be for the lawsuit only; we will not print your name in the newsletter unless you give us such authorization. We appreciate the health care hardship stories sent to us, but this effort needs to be taken further.
Now is the time to act to protect your retirement benefits. The more retirees that step forward and testify about their deteriorating health benefits, the more likely our class action suit will be successful. And if you don’t speak up, who will?
Some members have complained to us, but many expressed that they have not yet been harmed enough to speak out and take part in our class action lawsuit. While the company’s benefit reduction actions may have cost them only an extra $10 per month this year, on top of $12 or $15 per month the year before, and possibly $9 per month the year before that, these costs amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars compounded. And that does not include increases in prescriptions, co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses resulting from reduced coverage. Unchallenged, these costs can begin to overtake a retiree’s savings. Don’t let yourself be the next victim.
For example, in one retiree’s account, he illustrated that while he is not yet in the poorhouse, health benefit cuts have been economically detouring the enjoyment of his retirement. According to data provided, this particular retiree’s annual medical and dental plan contributions have risen 13.4% in 2001 on top of 60% in 2000 and 96% in 1999 – and as the retiree points out, these are increases for decreased services. Coupling these annually compounded increases with higher co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses, the purpose of our pending class action suit should become even clearer to all.
While this retiree is not homeless or on poverty’s doorstep, what type of economic pain will another 10 or 20 years of further compounded increases in costs and decreases in services cause him? "I feel like a victim of an old bait and switch by the company," he says. If the last three years were so financially harsh on his wallet, what does the future hold?
Those of you who are experiencing these kinds of declines in your health benefits should send us an outline of your problem, with specifics. Mark the papers "Class Action Lawsuit" and include your name, address and telephone number. After our lawyers have reviewed the material, they may call you to discuss your role in the lawsuit. This legal consultation costs you nothing, and if you are included, there are no associated legal costs. They will be paid by the Association. If you are interested in speaking out to protect our collective benefits, please send the supporting materials to our office as soon as you can.
What’s a Verizon?
According to Advertising Age, GTE and Bell Atlantic will spend more than $300 million a year promoting their soon-to-be-merged company, which will go by the name of Verizon. Retirees have been asking, "What the heck is a Verizon?"
Phone company insiders reportedly see the new name as a hybrid of the Latin word "veritas," meaning truth, and "horizon." But the irony of this shiny new name is bittersweet. The company is spending hundreds of millions of dollars developing and promoting its new name and yet they don’t have the money to compensate retirees who have not seen an ad hoc pension increase in a decade. Where’s the truth and horizon in that?
The decision to change its name is yet another way in which the company is abandoning its roots and running away from its once proud history. If Bell Atlantic wants to be "truthful," it should confront the concerns of retirees head-on instead of running away to Colorado to hold its shareholder meeting, changing its identity, and offering inadequate lump sum payments designed to appease retirees.
Class Action Lawsuit
Hidden among your records or in your closet may be important evidence, which would be useful in preparing our class action lawsuit against Verizon. We are asking you to look through your records and files from your working years for Flexplus binders and/or new hire information. You may have received memos over the years detailing your retirement health benefits. Within this information, there may be actual or implied promises made to you by the company about your health benefits.
These memos and correspondence could prove to be vital evidence to further support our lawsuit regarding the promises broken by the company to retirees about their health benefits. Almost 200,000 of us have dedicated our working lives to building the company, expecting it to make good on its word to provide a high-level of retirement benefits. It is time to make the company be honorable and live up to these promises.
As you look through your old employment records, you need not take the time to read all of the documents searching for implied contracts of lifetime benefits. Instead, just copy the records and send them to your Association at P.O. Box 33, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724. We will have our team of lawyers examine the documents for information important to our class action suit.
The more documentation and details you can provide, the better. In all correspondence, please include your name, address, telephone number, e-mail if possible and the year and company from which you retired. All information will be kept strictly confidential.
Your efforts to aid the progress of our lawsuit are greatly appreciated by your Association and your fellow retirees who are experiencing hardship because of health benefit reductions.
Congressman Robert Andrews (1st District – N.J.):
"No company should change the rules as they pertain to compensation for retired employees that have served that company faithfully -- in many cases all their adult lives – after that employee has retired expecting a certain income. I have met with representatives of the BellTel Retirees and am adamant in my drive along with Representative Tierney to pass legislation to amend ERISA law so that we may retroactively fix this problem for these individuals and ensure that every present and future worker’s retirement benefits are secure."
Congressman Dale Kildee (9th District – Mich.):
"I have been contacted by many retired salaried employees in my Michigan district who have had their retiree health benefits significantly reduced. I understand the economic and financial pressures on businesses, but they should not renege on promises to their retirees in order to balance their bottom lines. People who give long and loyal service to a company should be properly rewarded for their commitment."
Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (4th District – N.Y.):
"The Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act of 2001 is intended to correct an appalling situation – one that has festered for a number of years and has inflicted unacceptable hardship on millions of retirees nationwide. The problem is the current employer practice of acting after a person retires to deprive the retiree of some or all of the health benefits the retiree was entitled to at the time of the person’s retirement. Often these cutbacks occur long after a worker has retired and when the retiree is totally dependent on the medical benefits that have been provided."
"It is for these reasons that I am a proud co-sponsor of the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act of 2001. The bill will assure existing retirees and future retirees that their health benefits they were getting when they retired cannot be reduced unless they consent to such reductions or have authorized a collective bargaining representation to agree to such changes."
Congressman James McGovern (3rd District – Mass.):
"The Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act of 2001 would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to safeguard retirees in company health plans from having their health benefits eliminated or reduced after they have retired. I will continue to support this legislation into the 107th Congress."
Association Board Members participated in a conference with representatives from other retiree organizations from throughout the country to create the Coalition of Retirement Security Legislative Committee (CRS-LC). This committee will be comprised of representatives from many retiree organizations working together to protect retiree rights by pursuing priority issues, including legislative actions and coordinating CRS-LC retiree organization recruitment.
After meeting with other retirement groups in D.C. this past summer, Association President Bill Jones and Government Relations Vice President Joe Ristuccia formed relationships with leaders of many other retiree groups. As they discussed their concerns, the leaders realized that they basically want to achieve the same things, and that banding together would bolster common goals. The formation of the CRS Legislative Committee is an important first step in unifying retiree groups to gain a higher membership, leading to more political weight.
Retiree groups represented during the second conference in January 2001 included the GE Retirees’ Justice Fund, Johns Manville Retirees, Western Union Retirees, Prudential Retirees, SNET Retirees, US West Retirees, and the IEEE, along with our Association. Leaders from General Motors retiree movement, with 700,000 members, have also come seeking entry into our legislative coalition. A major priority for this coalition will be to create a national grassroots movement to touch every Congressional and Senatorial office.
The major functions of the CRS Legislative Committee are promoting healthcare legislation, establishing COLA and other pertinent legislation, and maintaining a Legislative Early Warning System on issues that could impact retirees. The committee will also set up a small office in Washington, D.C. with a paid part-time legislative liaison on staff to help garner support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act of 2001, along with future legislative proposals. In order to cover expenses for CRS-LC needs and functions, a Budget Committee was formed and is currently developing a budget proposal.
We are also interested in interviewing candidates for the legislative liaison position. Please contact the Association office if you live in the D.C. Area and are interested in part-time work of this nature.
In the past, CRS meetings have been used primarily as a means of acquainting member groups with each other’s priorities and positions. "By restructuring our approach, we can accelerate our time lines and improve our effectiveness immeasurably," according to Joe Ristuccia, who coordinated the January meeting. "I believe we can be successful in doing the impossible. We just have to get the millions of retirees, like us, connected and active."
Eileen Lawrence - Association Treasurer
The Association thanks Eileen for her tireless efforts on behalf of the Association and its membership. We also thank dogs Casey and Riley for being so understanding on the many occasions when Association business takes her away from these two loyal four-legged friends.
By: C. William Jones
I wish all of you a Happy New Year. I hope that we can look back at the year 2001 and celebrate many accomplishments made possible by our working together.
I first want to thank all of you who responded to my appeal to reach out and bring in new members. We have increased our rolls by about 2,000 since that appeal, largely because of your efforts. I hope that you will continue to pass on new names to us and talk up the importance of our mission. I also ask those who did not respond to my appeal to help yourself by helping us. Our power rests with our membership. More members equate to more influence – both with our former employer and with Congress. If you need copies of our newsletter or our brochure just contact the Association office, we will be happy to send them to you.
The next few months will be very important to all of us: our annual appeal for contributions, reintroduction of the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act, the Verizon Annual Meeting of Shareholders and our own Annual Membership Meeting. I will touch on each item and explain why it is important.
Our annual appeal for contributions was received by our membership in late January. We only make one appeal each year, and I thank all of you who have sent your contributions for 2001. Unlike many charitable organizations, we do not solicit contributions two or more times per year from those who respond to our first appeal. We do, however, remind those who do not make a contribution as to the importance of their financial support. The results of our annual appeal in the first few months determine the scope and extent of our programs for the year, so I urge you to send along your check, if you have not already done so.
I hope by the time you receive this newsletter we have reintroduced the healthcare bill. As you know, because it was introduced so late in the 106th Congress, it had little chance for passage. However, all of the letters, e-mails and calls to your representatives have paved the way for early action in the 107th Congress. Media coverage, including articles in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Business Journal, Boston Globe, AARP Bulletin, Plan Sponsor, HR Reporter and others have raised awareness of this important legislation. I urge you to redouble your efforts and continue to write, call and express the importance of this legislation to your Congressmen and Senators. A special edition newsletter will be out shortly providing more details on this important effort.
On April 25, 2001, Verizon will be holding its Annual Shareholders Meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. Several board members from your Association will be there to present proxy proposals and to air important retiree issues with the Verizon shareholders, board and officers. This meeting is important to us because it is the only time we have each year to raise our issues, face-to-face, before all of the policy makers and the owners of the business. Please follow the instructions regarding the voting of your shares, which are outlined in another article and encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to do the same. An impressive vote is essential. To those members who reside in the Memphis area, make it a priority to attend the meeting. I assure you that it will be very interesting, and we would love to meet you and have your support at the meeting.
Finally, on May 11, 2001, your Association will hold its Annual Membership Meeting in Atlantic City. We would love to see you there. For those who have yet to attend one of our meetings, I can tell you that we receive extremely good feedback from attendees. It is our opportunity to face the membership, tell our story, and listen to your concerns and suggestions and to answer your questions. You will also have the opportunity to talk personally to your board members and catch up with old friends. Of course, Atlantic City offers a host of other diversions, before and after the meeting. I look forward to seeing you at the meeting.
Last Minute Travel Discounts Offer Cost Saving Features
For those retirees who are in the know, traveling can be cheap and easy. The travel industry recognizes the fact that retirees have more time and more flexibility to pick up and go than any other segment of the population. The trick is to capitalize on what travel agents keep to themselves, their friends and family. Consider the following information when booking your next trip.
First and foremost, it is a buyer’s market for those who can travel at the last minute. Retirees can afford the luxury of being able to take a weeklong cruise or land travel package without having to worry about taking time off from work or getting the kids out of school. Booking agents who have 200 beds to fill on a cruise or tour that leaves tomorrow or next week cannot afford to let those spots go unoccupied. So that 10-day European cruise that was $2,000 per person 6 months ago, might be $799 with airfare in the last month before the sailing date. Travel agents realize that something is always better than nothing and selling the spots for less than half the price is not unheard of.
A little known fact about the cruise industry is a practice called repositioning. Often this repositioning occurs when a ship servicing the Americas in the summer needs to be sent to Europe for Fall Mediterranean cruises or one servicing the West Coast of North America must reposition itself to a port on the East Coast. Cruise lines regularly need to transfer their ships from one port to another part of the globe and rather than let the ship sail empty - it costs them regardless for fuel and staff salaries - they fill the beds at deeply discounted prices.
Deals can also be had on older ships, but this does not necessarily mean you are sailing on a lemon. A competitive race to own the most state-of-the-art fleet has led to a building boom amongst the various cruise line companies who just can’t afford to retire older, less popular ships, so they simply cut cruise costs. These days "older" may be only about 10 years old, so why not take advantage of the cruise industry’s struggle to beat each other out by vacationing on a perfectly good cruise ship for a fraction of the price?
For those who enjoy traveling by plane, flexibility of schedule is once again a key asset. But most airlines offer greater discounts for travelers willing to take a midweek flight with a weekend stay-over. While airlines generally offer the best deals for those booking long in advance, those connected to the Internet can register for unheard of last minute traveler programs on most every airline. So if your family and friends don’t mind a visit with just 2-3 days notice, register or have a friend or relative do it for you with any of the major regional, national or international airlines. You won’t believe the deals.
For those who have a favorite airline, you can call them directly to find their last minute deals or access their website which is usually www.(name of the airline).com.
Fly & Stay Deals:
Cheap deals are also to be had for prepackaged fly and stay package deals. These are packages put together by hotel chains, airlines or tour companies. If they have 45 slots and have sold only 42, then that is cutting into their profit. So tell your local travel agent that you want to be put on their list of clients interested in last minute travel opportunities. The booking agent may love you, as travel companies sometimes increase the agent commission to sell the last few tickets just so they don’t incur a loss.
But always check in advance what type of clientele will be on the tour or trip. Is it a chocolate tasters tour, a religious tour or a wild singles trip? One famous story retold again and again is of a group of four young single men who were sold by an agent a magnificent last minute deal on a brand new ship. Unfortunately, when the four arrived on the Miami based ship they realized that it was a trip geared towards seniors and older families. The food was great but they were all disappointed with their failure to pick the right trip.
Remember, just about every travel agency, or booking agent has special deals to be had for retirees, so keep in mind these tricks of the trade and you might wind up enjoying a top-notch vacation for a fraction of the advertised price.
If you are interested in finding last minute deals and deeply discounted travel packages, check out the following websites or toll free (800) numbers as a starting point or check with your local travel agent.
AmExcursions – Subscribe online to receive this travel and entertainment e-newsletter from American Express® Travel. Contains updated information on travel packages, special offers for card members, and helpful tips on traveling. Go to http://travel.americanexpress.com and follow the link to "AmExcursions" or check out the "Last Minute Travel Bargains" section. Call 1-800-346-3607 for information.
SEASAVER.COM – Check out this website (www.seasaver.com) or simply call them (1-800-SEA-SAVER) to obtain up-to-date information and pricing on last minute cruise deals.
Cruise Outlet – Go to their website at www.expcruiseoutlet.com or call 1-800-466-8440. You can browse through cruise deals, search cruises by destination, and/or register for their last minute deals email service.
TravelConnectionsTM – Sign up online for their Last Minute Travel Bargains email mailing list or just check their website (www.travelconnections.com) from time to time for great last minute deals. Both airline and cruise deals available.
11th Hour Vacations – This website (www.11thhourvacations.com) allows travelers to review and choose from a selection of destinations that are offering last minute discounts on vacation packages and cruises. Travelers are also able to use the site to register their personal preferences and receive an automatic and customized e-mail notification whenever a matching travel opportunity becomes available. Call (864) 331-1140 for details.
Death Benefit Value Confirmed By Company
We have received many inquires from retirees about the Death Benefit, how it is calculated and how it is paid. According to a recent confirmation from the company, the Bell Atlantic Company Death Benefit is equal to the pay for one year as of June 30, 1985, or the day before you retired if you retired prior to that date. This also applies to retirees of companies now merged into BA.
Keep in mind, you cannot name a beneficiary for this death benefit. The beneficiaries for this benefit are called "mandatory beneficiaries." If you are married at the time of your death, the mandatory beneficiary is your spouse if your spouse is living with you at the time of your death.
If you do not have a spouse, your mandatory beneficiaries are your unmarried dependent children under age 23, or any age if disabled and incapable of self –support. Your parents who are dependent upon you for support are also eligible. If there is more than one mandatory beneficiary when you die, the Bell Atlantic Claims Committee will determine how the benefit is paid to your surviving beneficiaries. If there is no eligible beneficiary for the death benefit, there will be no payment.
If you do not have a statement showing the exact amount of the death benefit you are entitled to, call the InTouch Center at 1-877-BELL-ITC (1-877-235-5482), or the Teletypewriter (TTY) for the hearing impaired at 1-800-833-8334, and request a copy. You should keep this statement with your important papers. The automated voice response system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. InTouch Representatives will provide you with one-on-one assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, excluding Holidays.
to the Editor- Member Mail Bag
To the editor:
I am writing to you about the article in the Fall 2000 newsletter concerning the New England Yellow Page jobs. I am a current employee in that building, and although I am not happy about what is going on here and how people are being treated, I am also not happy when I read things that just are not true. …
For example, "the facility at 35 Village Road has been the Yellow Pages headquarters for nearly a century…" The building is less than fifteen years old! How could it be the headquarters for nearly a century? Before the Bell Atlantic/NYNEX merger, there was a Bell Atlantic directory headquarters someplace else, and it got shut down, so this was really only the NYNEX headquarters and even then for only a few years.
Next example, "at the mass firing, company officials announced that no accommodations would be made for those who are just shy of retirement eligibility." While they did say that there was no general plan to do anything, there was mention that they would try to work out something for people who were close to 30 years.
Next example, "9 jobs will be kept in New England." … How could you possibly state that there will be 9 jobs in New England? Where did that number come from?
I could go on but don’t know what good it would do. I am just very saddened that you would write an article so full of lies and half truths. … Yes, Ms. Harless is heartless. People are being treated poorly, but you do them a disservice by writing an article like this.
Association President C. William Jones’ response to this letter:
Dear Mr. H.,
I am sorry that you feel that there were inaccuracies in the recent newsletter regarding the Yellow Pages office closing in Middleton, Mass. It certainly is not our intention to stretch the truth. The truth, as we know it, is horrendous enough without embellishment.
The sources of our information were: 1.) a press release sent out by some of your colleagues who were losing their jobs after dedicating many years to the company. They asked that we run an article in our newsletter; 2.) interviews of actual employees who were at the meeting and were losing their jobs. They asked that their names remain confidential; 3.) a person in President Kathy Harless’ office with whom we checked some of the factual information.
We felt confident with the information and had no reason to think that it was not completely factual. The one item that we regret is the reference to the facility at 35 Village Road, which we incorrectly characterized as the headquarters for nearly a century. The intent was to indicate that this area had been the home of the Yellow Pages ever since the inception of a directory in that region, nearly a century. This error was called to our attention by another reader who also commended us for a "great article."
Our organization is dedicated to seeing that pensions and benefits are protected, and we support the concept of economic justice for our retirees and soon-to-be retirees. This type of heartless and devastating action by the company is inexcusable. It would have been a shame not to have reported this story which highlights how the philosophy of the company has changed for the worse in recent years.
C. William Jones
To the editor:
Sharing the envelope with my pension check for November was the December 2000 issue of Verizon & You, the "official publication for eligible Verizon retirees."
The headline on the lead story was: "Strong Third Quarter Revenue Growth on Sustained Demand for High-growth Service." The article was packed with statistics in support of the headline: net income for third quarter 2000 increased 39.6 percent; adjusted consolidated revenues from current operations rose 7.2 percent; net additions at Verizon Wireless increased almost 35 percent, etc.
What struck me most about the story was the lead paragraph: "There’s good earnings news for all VERIZON stakeholders, including retirees." At first reading I didn’t catch an explanation of why the news was good for retirees. I reread the article twice but still found no connection between Verizon’s strong revenue growth and retirees. I was disappointed but not surprised.
If Verizon & You had published a story about my situation as a retiree, the headline might have been: Retiree’s Pension Payments Show No Increase for Eight Years While Cost of Living Soars 25%. The article would be packed with data on how much medical insurance premiums had been increased (35% for 2001), loss of benefits, reductions in the value of the insurance plan, etc. The lead paragraph might have read: "There’s good news for all VERIZON stakeholders except retirees."
The other article on the front page of Verizon & You carried the headline: "Verizon Customer Service Commitment Stronger Than Ever." I read the article looking for evidence supporting the headline. There wasn’t any. I was expected to accept that statement at face value; not only to accept it but also to repeat it to "people with whom [I] come in contact daily – family, friends and neighbors…" I was asked, as a retiree, to play the role of ambassador for Verizon.
The company seems to assume that employees who were forced into early retirement and have received no increase in their pension checks are eager to say anything to promote Verizon’s revenue growth; to spend their "golden years" trotting to public utility commission hearings to raise their voices in support of higher telephone rates.
As I read the December 2000 issue of Verizon & You and reviewed my pension statement, I thought of an appropriate slogan for publication; to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy: ask not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for your company.
We seek those interested retirees from Bell of PA. Virginia and West Virginia to help manage our rapidly growing membership.
Donate a few hours to not only help yourself but fellow retirees, as well.
Phone Jack Brennan at 201-666-8174 or Jim Casey at 540-439-9568 Or
the Association Headquarters 516-367-3067
who are supporting us financially.
We can’t do it without you.