The Official Newsletter of Bell Atlantic Retirees.
By Joe Ristuccia
Our retiree health legislation, the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act of 2000, is moving steadily toward introduction. In May, the initial printed version of the proposed bill, as edited by the Office of Legislative Counsel of the House of Representatives, was distributed, showing Rep. John Tierney (D. Mass) as the proposed chief sponsor, with Representatives Rob Andrews (D, N.J.), Carolyn McCarthy (D. N.Y.) and Dale Kildee (D. Mich), as the original proposed cosponsors. Generally, a printed version of legislation is not prepared unless there are imminent plans to introduce it.
Prior to authorizing the preparation of a printed version, Rep. Tierney’s office had it reviewed by technical experts at the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department is the agency chiefly responsible for administering the non-tax aspects of ERISA. The bill passed the Department’s technical review with flying colors, and although it is too early to determine whether the bill will receive the Department’s official endorsement (that will depend on the White House), it is safe to say that the Department has done nothing to discourage the early sponsors of the bill from actively pushing it ahead.
The bill was also sent out for review by the United Automobile Workers of America (UAW), a union that, directly or indirectly, has been involved in a fair amount of ERISA legislation over the loss of retiree health benefits, and is concerned about assuring the integrity of their collective bargaining agreements with respect to such benefits. At first it appeared that the UAW was hostile to the bill, but it turned out that this was a misunderstanding. In fact, the UAW offered a number of constructive technical criticisms of the bill that resulted in our Washington counsel recommending certain language changes for incorporation into the bill. We hope to be able to work closely with the UAW and other like-minded groups to assure that the bill has a successful legislative journey.
Since the bill represents a major capital congressional undertaking that is bound to arouse the hardcore opposition of certain employer groups, it is understandable that the initial sponsors of the bill are proceeding cautiously in the hope of strengthening the bill before its opponents try to gang up on it. We have been reassured, however, that the initial sponsors of the bill are all strongly supportive of it and intend to ready it for introduction as soon as certain staffing changes in Rep. Tierney’s office are completed. We are planning a major media and Congressional lobbying campaign as soon as the bill is introduced, and once it is introduced we will issue a special bulletin to all members with full particulars, including what each member can do to help get the bill enacted.
*A word(s) from one of our sponsors*
Seidenberg Takes Home $13.1 Million – Up From $3.1Million in ‘98
1999 was a boom year for… Ivan Seidenberg. The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Bell Atlantic, received a cool $13.1 million compensation package last year, according to an April proxy filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Compared to his 1998 compensation package of $3.1million, the last twelve months brought a $10 million increase to Mr. Seidenberg’s pockets. This cushy package consisted of $1.2 million in salary, a $2.1 million bonus and $9.8 million in other compensations.
As part of what looks like a rainy day fund, the "other compensations" received by Mr. Seidenberg included a $5.5 million incentive bonus as part of his retention agreement and $3.2 million in a special company contribution to his account under an income-deferral plan, just to name a few. Comparatively, Seidenberg received a $3.1-million compensation package in 1998, including a $1.2-million bonus, $850,000 in salary and $1.06 million in other compensation, according to the proxy.
The company had about $33.1 billion in total operating revenues last year and posted $4.2 billion in net income. Mr. Seidenberg was awarded 588,240 stock options worth almost $7 million at the time of the grant with a $55.75 per share exercise price, which expires in January 2009.
If Bell Atlantic has that type of money to throw around, why are they willing to offer only a lump sum payment plan for their retirees? Just as Mr. Seidenberg has claimed to earn all he has been given, so have the retired employees, who deserve to get what is rightfully theirs. Nearing retirement himself, Seidenberg, 53, should look into investing his money well, because the days of Bell Atlantic taking care of his financial needs are coming to an end. As we all know, after he steps through those doors for the last time, he too will be forgotten unless our pleas for respect and fair treatment are heard!
Lump Sum Options
By Ted Procas, NYNEX, 1990 Retiree
By now, retirees eligible for the one-time lump sum payment should have selected their distribution option. Many of you contacted me during the election period for assistance in selecting the option that was most appropriate for your own needs. I would like to share some of the most frequent questions and answers we gave during this time and some options that still exist even after the June 9, 2000 deadline.
Many of the questions involved IRA’s:
Q: Can I rollover more than $2000 to my IRA?
A: Yes, you can rollover or transfer the full amount of your payment without paying taxes until you withdraw the money.
Q: If I took the lump sum payment and I later decide to rollover part or all of the distribution into an IRA-IS IT TOO LATE?
A: No, you have 60 days from the date of the distribution to rollover all or part of your money into an IRA. Therefore, if you took a direct payment you can STILL avoid a one-year tax liability on the total payment by moving the money to an IRA.
Q: Can I have more than one IRA?
A: Yes, in fact there are important Estate Tax Planning reasons to have more than one IRA.
Q: If I am over 70 ½ can I open a new IRA?
A: Yes, but you are subject to the 70 ½ minimum distribution requirements. Further, selection of separate beneficiaries can assist with Estate Planning for persons over 70 ½.
There are also questions and confusion regarding annuities:
Q: Are our pensions annuities?
A: The Bell Atlantic pension is a form of annuity. The Company owns the asset and pays you for life, and to your designated survivor if you elect that option. This is sometimes referred to as an immediate annuity and most pensioners receive this benefit. However, there are also deferred annuities – where the Company also owns the asset but begins paying at a later date e.g. 65. The recent distribution offered three variations on the immediate annuity that provide monthly income for life. The Company owns the asset and realizes the growth potential. Retirees who avoided this option protected both their capital and growth.
Q: What other types of annuities are there?
A: Annuities are also insurance investments that grow tax deferred and you own the asset. You can select a fixed interest rate (Fixed Annuity) or select an annuity that allows you to invest in mutual funds that have growth potential (Variable Annuity). You have access to your money, can convert to a monthly stream of payments without losing principle and then pass the value of the annuity to your beneficiaries. This is often referred to as a deferred annuity.
Q: What is a guaranteed income annuity?
A: This is a new feature that some companies offer that provides potential for asset growth and at the same time guarantees a minimum income you can rely on regardless of how your asset performs.
Finally, please remember that you must complete the election form in order to receive your payment and consult you Tax Advisor for specific tax issues.
Editors Note. Ted Procas retired from NYNEX in 1990. He is President of his own Financial Services Company and is a licensed Investment Executive specializing in Retirement Planning and Investments.
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.
At the end of May, our Washington counsel completed the redrafting of a massive 35-page complaint against Bell Atlantic for retirees health benefit violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and other federal law. The redrafting of the complaint reflected the results of an intensive inquiry into the history of the former NYNEX medical and dental plans, and innumerable revisions and changes to the plans that were made first by NYNEX in the mid-1980s, and subsequently by Bell Atlantic after the merger between the two companies in 1997.
Because of the complexity of many of the changes, and different or confusing descriptions of what they were intended to accomplish, including the most recent initiation of the Medicare Primary Plan for Retirees (MPPR) by Bell Atlantic, it was considered essential to engage in extensive consultation with our most knowledgeable members. This was done in order to assure, to the maximum feasible extent, the accuracy of the allegation made in the complaint and their specific connection to those of our members who will be named as plaintiffs in the complaint and who will represent the class of all our NYNEX retired members whose coverage for medical and dental benefits was adversely affected after they retired. This difficult but necessary work will assure that the complaints will stand up to critical scrutiny and rest on a foundation of solid credibility.
The revised complaint is now being checked by a team of retiree health benefits litigation experts that has been assembled to undertake the procedural and jurisdictional steps necessary to assure the proper filling of the complaint and its conformity to federal court rules. As soon all remaining technicalities are ironed out the complaints will be filed and appropriate measures taken to publicize what promises to be a historic ERISA lawsuit. Incidentally, once the complaints dealing with NYNEX retirees is filed, another complaint on behalf of the Bell Atlantic South retirees will be prepared for the filing based on the violations that involved the terms and conditions of the former Bell Atlantic South medical and dental plans.
Employee Coalition for Retirement Security Update
The Bell Atlantic Employee Coalition for Retirement Security (BAECRS) has run periodic web site postings in support of membership recruitment for the Association of BellTel Retirees. The BAECRS Steering Committee ran regular messages in support of the two retirees’ shareholder proposals. BAECRS sent a representative, Janice Winston, to the Bell Atlantic annual meeting in Denver to offer support for the Association’s proposals.
During the meeting, Janice also brought attention to continuing concerns with the
Cash Balance Plan (CBP) and the Modified Former Pension Plan (MFPP) shortfalls (which include an outdated base salary window and early retirement penalties after 30 years of service). She also highlighted the discrepancy between the 26 weeks of medical leave allowed for management employees vs. the 52 weeks allotted to the associates for medical leave.
The employee coalition is in the preliminary stages of drawing up two shareholder proposals for next year’s Bell Atlantic Shareholder Meeting. These proposals will deal with Cash Balance Plan and other issues.
Since this is an election year, BAECRS is developing a "Hall of Fame" and "Hall of Shame" for their web site (www.bapensions.org). This will be an informational listing of politicians and whether or not they supported legislation for full pension restoration and protection.
BAECRS is optimistic that once the merger with GTE is completed, the new HR regime, under Randy McDonald, will be receptive to pension reform aimed at restoring full pension value for current and retired employees. BAECRS will attempt to open the lines of communications with Randy to request that the built-in pension reductions be removed.
In the event of a labor stoppage this August, the company is trying to line up retirees to come back and bail them out. We hope that most of the retirees will take into consideration how the current executives continue to chip away at retirees’ healthcare benefits and pensions. It is strongly recommended that retirees decline the company’s request for help.
Active Employee From Pennsylvania Elected to BellTel Board
Bob Brophy, an active Bell Atlantic employee and a member of the Steering Committee of the Bell Atlantic Employee Coalition for Retirement Security (BAECRS), has been elected to the Board of Directors. With a fresh insight on the struggle for employee and retiree pension and benefits rights, look forward to Brophy breaking new ground in this five-year battle.
A 31-year veteran to Bell Atlantic, Brophy has 15 years experience in technician jobs and 16 years in management positions. He is currently involved in the outside facilities engineering arena where he designs work orders and estimates, digital equipment and facilities. Age 53, Bob says he plans to work for seven more years.
Bob’s activism started with a letter writing/e-mail campaign to Bell Atlantic officers and HR representatives in July of 1999 about the way the Cash Balance Plan was implemented. He also keeps other management employees up to date on pension issues.
Brophy’s newest project is the creation of a Bell Atlantic resource group that will address the needs of older employees. The resource group, the Association of Career Employees, will be open to all employees but will be geared toward those 40 years of age and over. Mr. Brophy believes that "as the work force ages and many of us near retirement, we can be a resource pool for retirees. We don’t want our retirement benefits to be reduced by Bell, so it’s in the best interest of active and retired employees to unite to achieve common goals." Mr. Brophy lives in Lansdale, PA with his wife Christine and 4 children.
Now You Must Act:
All of the hardship situations you provide us will be researched and handed over the team of lawyers representing retirees in our Class Action Lawsuit against Bell Atlantic.
You can send us the information via U.S. Mail at the Association headquarters: PO Box 33, Cold Spring Harbor, New York 11724. If you are on the Internet, you can also e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The more documentation and details you can provide, the better. Due to the volume of information and number of responses, we unfortunately will not be able to take information over the telephone.
In all correspondence, please include your name, address, telephone number, e-mail if possible and the year and company from which you retired.
Association Members Stand United With Union In Healthcare Battle
In late May, some 35,000 Bell Atlantic operators, technicians and service representatives
in New England and New York and their union, the Communication Workers of America threatened to strike as Bell Atlantic sought to increase co-payments for worker health plans, going against a prior contract agreement and in violation of Federal labor laws. The CWA called for a May 31 and mid-contract job action if Bell Atlantic did not retreat from its position.
In trying to prepare for the event of a strike in August, Bell Atlantic officials sent out a questionnaire to many retirees in the Association asking if they would work as replacements, if necessary. C. William Jones, President of the Association of BellTel Retirees called upon the 46,000 members of the pensioners group and all retirees to stand united in support of their union brothers and sisters and just say no to the company.
"There are 35,000 employees, 35,000 families that are fighting for the protection of
healthcare benefits that are being taken from them," said Mr. Jones. "We retirees are fighting the same fight against the same Bell Atlantic executives that have been gradually attempting to diminish and take away our benefits and those promised to our families. Both the CWA and the Association of BellTel Retirees must stand united for the rights of Bell Atlantic employees and retirees."
Federal labor law generally bars unionized companies from changing wages, benefits, hours or other conditions of employment, including health insurance coverage without first negotiating with the union. With this fact in hand CWA officials complained to the National labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Before a strike could be called, the matter went to a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge. The judge ruled in favor of the CWA, noting that the company’s decision to raise co-payments on doctor visits was an unfair labor practice. The ruling forced the company to come to an agreement with the union.
In the agreement, Bell Atlantic agreed to reverse any increases in co-payments for doctor visits, prescription drugs, emergency room visits and other items. Bell Atlantic also agreed to reimburse the workers who had to pay the increased co-payments.
This August will be the expiration of the current two-year contract for the workers. A major issue expected in those negotiations is the union’s insistence that Bell Atlantic allow thousands of non-union workers in its cell phone division to unionize in a manner that would simply require a majority to sign cards saying they want a union. The company, on the other hand, it is expected to demand that the workers take part in a more time consuming formal voting process.
Bell Atlantic May Owe You Money!!!
An Association member and Bell Atlantic retiree who wishes to remain nameless penned a note to the Association which every member should investigate: Do you still have uncollected funds waiting for you in the Bell Atlantic Savings Bond Program?
Many employees and retirees elected to have weekly paycheck direct withdrawals for the purchase of savings bonds. If you are one of them, you may still have money owed to you. The author of this letter found out she had unclaimed funds waiting for her and she was kind enough to detail her own exploration in order to help other retirees recover their "lost in space" funds. She writes:
"I retired from Bell Atlantic on August 1, 1998. At the time I was having savings bonds taken out of my paycheck. I suddenly wondered if there was any money left in this account. I called InTouch on Oct. 28, 1999, and was told I retired too long ago for them to check. They also asked if I signed up to have them taken out of my check which was naturally yes, she then told me I should have unauthorized them. She gave me the telephone #'s of the National Bond and Trust in Indiana and Bell Atlantic’s Payroll Services.
"I called National Bond and Trust and was told I had $47 left in my account. When I asked why I was not notified, a representative said that in a year or so they merge everything and send back the money. As a retiree, I am just wondering how many other people’s money they are holding? We were never made aware of anything to do about savings bonds upon retirement. I have called several of my friends who have also never received any bonds or payment upon retirement.
"Would it be possible for you to inform other members of the Association of BellTel Retirees that this company is holding their money? Unless they call, I believe they will not receive their money."
Editor: Thank you for taking the time to alert us. This could effect thousands of retirees and total tens-of-thousands of dollars. We encourage members to call InTouch at 1-877-BELL-ITC (1-877-235-5482) to find out more.
FOCUS ON BELLTEL RETIREE VOLUNTEERSRetiree Volunteer Jim Casey (Retired Bell Atlantic/Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone, Maryland 1991]
Your Association is only as strong as its membership and the support it receives from the 46,000 retirees on our roster. Obviously, financial support is critical and greatly appreciated. However, there is a tremendous contribution in unpaid volunteer time and, being human, we tend to take it for granted. After a while, it becomes routine -- someone's job. We want to amend that impression. As a way of showing our appreciation, we'd like you to know who these people are and share with you the help they give to all of us. We will focus on several volunteers in upcoming issues, and we kick off this column with Bell Atlantic Virginia retiree Jim Casey (Bell Atlantic/Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone, Maryland, 1991).
Casey was elected to the All-Volunteer Association Board of Directors in 1998 and quickly set out on a program to upgrade the technological sophistication of the organization – he currently serves as Vice President of Information Services. In the role as our retiree technology guru, Jim helped improve communication systems at our headquarters in Cold Spring Harbor, New York and with the membership at-large. This included launching the redesign of our on-line version of the BellTel Retiree newsletter; providing an upgrade of the services available through our member website (www.belltelretirees.org); and implementing a member news service providing the latest company, capital hill and pension news to subscribers.
Casey has also provided Association members with the ability to more easily research information and communicate in writing with their elected representatives in Congress and the US Senate, without ever having to pick up the phone or lick a stamp - just to name a few things.
Jim began working at Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone in 1968 in the commercial department where he held numerous positions in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. He retired as a Bell Atlantic staff manager at the Minicomputer Maintenance and Operations Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.
It’s amazing what technology has done, making our lives and the very complicated task of fighting for retiree economic justice a bit easier. Because Jim brought his vast technological skills to the table to aid our efforts, the members and the Association in general have benefited greatly. A tip of the hat to Jim Casey for his dedication, hard work and the donation of his time to help all Bell Atlantic retirees in our fight to win back our rights.
The Association is always looking for a few good recruits. If you are able to volunteer time, or special skills we want to hear from you. Please call our office at (631) 367-3067.
Syracuse Meeting Draws Packed House
Under the watchful eye of local and national media, the Association of BellTel Retirees Inc. presented their issues and voiced their concerns to nearly 500 members at the 2000 Annual Meeting in Syracuse, New York. The atmosphere at the standing-room-only event was upbeat and energetic but all were mindful of the disheartening reason for their gathering: to fight their former employer for pension and benefit rights promised upon retirement.
Retirees from across the northeast packed the Liverpool Holiday Inn Convention Center in Syracuse to show their support for the Association and to hear the latest news from the Board of Directors. The Mayor of North Syracuse, James Hotchkiss, himself a company retiree, opened the meeting with a welcome on behalf of his city. Association Treasurer Eileen Lawrence (NYNEX-NY) delivered a report outlining the Association’s financial status and, Jack Sellen (Bell Atlantic-NJ) delivered the Secretary’s Report.
Government Relations Vice President Joe Ristuccia (NYNEX-NY) explained the latest developments and fielded questions regarding the Association’s burgeoning litigation and legislative efforts. Active Bell Atlantic employee Bob Brophy (Bell Atlantic-PA), recently elected to the Board of Directors, introduced himself to the membership in attendance and discussed plans for the role active employees will play in the Association’s future.
At the conclusion of the formal presentations, the crowd engaged in a spirited question and answer discussion with the Board Members moderated by Association President Bill Jones (NYNEX-NY) and Public Relations Vice President Lou Miano (NYNEX-MA). Among the hottest topics discussed during the hour-long session were the lump sum payments, the legal efforts, and the proxy results (See related articles). Regarding the proxy results, Bill Jones was quick to point out that the Bell Atlantic annual shareholders meeting in Denver, Colorado was attended by only about a quarter of the attendees who made it to the Association’s meeting.
Booths were set up by Empire Federal Credit Union, Cap Com Financial Services, Meri-Care, Inc., and Nation Corporate Benefits Administrators, Inc to support the Association and provide members with information about their services.
Special thanks go to Board Member John Parente, coordinator Pat George, and all the Syracuse Life Member volunteers for their many months of planning to the make the event an overwhelming success.
By: C. William Jones
Retirees’ trip to Colorado for this year’s Bell Atlantic Annual Meeting was expensive but necessary. Bob Rehm and John Parente are to be thanked for making the trip and representing us so professionally. The company tried to keep us away by moving the meeting to the other end of the continent, but we came anyway. They tried to negotiate our proxy proposals off the ballot, but we charged forward regardless. They tried to avoid having a truly independent company board of directors for a long time, but the pressure being exerted by retirees and our friends in labor was becoming too great to ignore. When will the company realize that giving us token payment will not make us quit? We are unified and determined to win total economic justice for our retirees and active employee members and that is the only negotiating point this Association Board will consider.
Oh Colorado -- Surely a hotbed of activity in the Bell Atlantic territory. In fact, many times I have reminisced with other retirees about our earlier days with the company taming the Colorado territories for NYNEX & Bell Atlantic. Well to tell you the truth, there is not one retiree, who could offer a version of that story – because Colorado is about as far from the heart of Bell Atlantic Territory as Alaska is. The only explanation for moving the meeting that far west is to keep away retiree and unionist shareowners angry with current management from attending and voicing their real concerns. Well we were there anyway, as was the CWA. But few eyes of the media could make it and only about 100 shareowners – one fourth of the number that came to the Association’s annual meeting in Syracuse. Is there something the company is hiding from? Were they worried that we would air the facts about not taking care of their own workers and retirees? If they are so concerned about their sins against their own, why not fix them?
We "Proxied" Despite The Company’s Pleas -- This year Association members once again put forth two proxy proposals that had garnered impressive shareholder support in previous years. However, earlier this year the Association was petitioned by the company to remove the two issues from the ballot, regarding Executive Golden Parachutes and Requiring Independent Directors on the Company Board. Have we hit a nerve? Well, the retiree proposals to shoot down Executive Golden Parachutes (See accompanying article about Chairman Seidenberg’s $13.1 Million compensation in 1999) garnered a powerful 32% support of all shareholders, or over 330 million votes. More importantly, our proposal to require truly Independent Directors on the company Board went from 19% of the vote last year to 27%, or 278 million votes, this year! At the Colorado meeting, together with the CWA, we voted some 2.7 million shares in support of these retiree-supported initiatives and this does not include the millions voted by mail. Thank you retirees and friends of retirees for your support of our proposals.
Board Composition To Change – Nervous that the retirees’ proxy requiring Independent Directors might win at the shareholder meeting or draw increased media and government attention to the very insular, self-serving Bell Atlantic Board of Directors, the company announced that it will finally bring real change to its Board of Directors. The Company pledged that it would 1) reduce the Board from 21 to 16 Directors; 2) reduce the number of company executives on the Board from 6 to 2; 3) reduce the number if interlocking Directors. This changes the Board to a truly independent majority of Directors. Retirees, be proud of this accomplishment! This was an issue championed by your Association and its members – you.
What Does All Of This Mean To Our Members, Both Active Employees & Retirees?
Many of you may not remember the early days of the Association, when our membership was about 1,400 members. Substantial at that time, but nothing compared to our 46,000 members today. We began a letter writing campaign to make company executives aware of our concerns as retirees, that promises long made and considered a "contract" for years by retirees and management alike, were being broken and ignored and we knew something had to be done. We met very cordially with upper management and Chairman Seidenberg to voice our concerns, they would of course be looked into – but no changes were made.
How times have changed! Our proxy proposals were so important and received such popular support from fellow shareowners that they actually petitioned us to withdraw our proposals. In fact, it forced change in the Board composition. In the last year we have seen other signs that the company may finally understand the economic toll it has inflicted upon its once loyal retirees and active employees. Advocacy has resulted in A) Increase to the Minimum Pension; B) Lump Sum Pension Payouts; C) Improved Calculations of the Cash Balance Plan.
Our task will not be complete until there has been complete and total economic justice delivered for retirees and our soon to be retired, active employee members. Even then we must remain vigilant and watchful for the protection of all retirees. Clearly progress is being made. Our efforts are being watched and are being recognized. Together we are making a difference, better today at 46,000 members than four years ago starting out with 1,400 members.
In fact, why not give a Bell Atlantic active or retired friend or colleague an early birthday, holiday or retirement gift of a membership in the Association. What better an investment than in the protection of your own economic future --your pension and theirs? It is also tax deductible. Or if you prefer, send us their name, address and telephone and we will do the footwork. The stronger our membership, the stronger your pension protections will be.
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.
Bell Atlantic Carefully Avoids Angry Retirees By Moving Annual Meeting to Distant Rocky Mountains
Retirees want to know, why would a company with the word ‘Atlantic’ in its name and the vast majority of its business on the east coast decide to hold its annual meeting in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado? The answer is simple. Company executives may have been looking to duck angry and vocal retirees who have proposed several of the anti-management proxy proposals on the agenda for the May 24 annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.
The distant western location, however, did not stop the Association from waging a proxy battle that sought to restructure Bell Atlantic’s self-governed and executive compensation policies. Association President C. William Jones says, "Despite moving its annual meeting to Georgia last year, the vocal presence of retirees and unionists may have caused the directors discomfort. So this year they moved even further away."
He continued, "But rather than addressing retirees concerns head-on, the company has sought a way to avoid the Association. Should retirees and other shareowners expect to reserve hotel rooms in Chernobyl in the Ukraine for next year? At least the rooms would be cheaper." Several Association members were able to make the trip to Colorado, but the cost kept many at home. The actual proxy results are discussed in further detail in the "President’s Report."
to the Editor- Member Mail Bag
One member shared with us a letter he sent to Chairman Ivan Seidenberg, expressing his displeasure regarding the Lump Sum Payout and the company’s treatment of pensioners, as being wholly inadequate. Excerpts of the letter follow:
Dear Mr. Seidenberg,
I hope when you and your other mishandlers of pensioners rights sit down and look at yourselves, your conscience will enable you to see the wrong you are all promulgating. I can’t imagine how this ill treatment can go on. You all purport to be so interested in Telephone Pioneering --- doing good for others. But what about us, the people who did Pioneering and still do?
Throughout my career the corporation always helped our employees to contact each other; now you cannot provide us with a pensioners directory nor will you make the addresses available to the BellTel Retiree Association. Who do you think the Pioneers are? They are all ex-telephone employees; or to make it clearer to you --- PENSIONERS.
Warren G. Schubert
GTE ANNOUNCES EMPLOYEE MERGER BENEFITS & FIVE YEAR PENSION PROTECTION
In response to questions raised by its own employees, GTE clarified
pension protections provided for under both ERISA and the five-year
employee benefit protections tied to GTE shareholder approval of the
proposed GTE-Bell Atlantic merger.
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.