In our Winter edition, we looked back at the Association’s earliest years, chronicling our seven founders and their mission to hold our former employers accountable for commitments made in our working years. Over the next five years following that history, the Association truly flourished by winning its first historic proxy campaigns to change Verizon’s bylaws, it gained national exposure and prominence, and in 2000 surpassed 100,000 members.
As the new millennium began, the Association won important victories for pre-1995 retirees, campaigning for and earning lump sum COLA payments as well as an increase to the minimum pension payments. The Association waded into national policy by drafting federal legislation to prevent corporations from cancelling and reducing retiree health benefits. The bill, the Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act (HR 1822), was introduced into Congress in 2000 and by the next year had 58 sponsors, prompting corporations to launch an all-out campaign against it.
Successful Shareholder Proxy Campaigns
As it kept an eye on the halls of Congress, the Association was busy making huge strides the sponsoring shareowner proxies that garnered an amazing 1.5 billion shareowner votes. Momentum steadily increased.
An initial proxy to limit future executive “golden parachutes” received 32 percent of the vote and in 2002 the Association shocked Wall Street by winning 42.7% of shareholder proxy votes with its Calculation of Incentive Compensation Proxy, also known as “shadow profits.” That retiree proxy proposal would bar the company from including the earnings from the retirees’ then $55 billion pension fund as net income when calculating officers’ incentive pay.
As the Association racked up impressive victories in its proxy fights and its membership continued to grow and make noise, it was featured prominently in prestigious and widely read publications like Fortune and Time Magazine, Business Week, Crain’s New York Business and more.
In 2002, New Jersey retiree Jack Brennan became the Chairman of the Association, which he still serves but today as President.
The next year was a truly remarkable one for the Association. Building on its success, the Association won not one but two proxies against Verizon, an unprecedented achievement. The golden parachutes proxy won with 59% of shareowner votes, while our proxy on shadow profits was accepted and adopted by the company’s board after its near victory the previous year.
“This was a historic win, the first time that either a NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, Verizon or Bell System shareholder proposal was won over the objections of the company,” said then-Association President C. William Jones.
Coming off the success of the proxies, the Association leaders were invited to meet with the COO and Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Ruben King-Shaw Jr., and to Cornell University’s school of Industrial and Labor Relations to participate in a seminar on healthcare. Mr. Shaw said, “None is more central to the future of our great nation as the strengthening of the American healthcare finance and delivery system through reengineering of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
Sadly, 2004 we lost Michael Gordon, the Association’s legal counsel and one of the original drafters of the ERISA law. Mr. Gordon was a major contributor to the drafting of H.R. 1322 and former Chairman of the Pension Rights Center.
Membership Passes 100,000
Even as it bid goodbye to a great champion, the Association marked a very significant and impressive milestone: Its membership in 2004 surpassed the 100,000 mark. It was quite a voyage for a group that had begun less than 10 years earlier with a membership of only seven NYNEX retirees. The 100,000th and 100,001st members were a Virginia couple, Luther Becraft – a retired C&P telephone employee and Margaret Becraft – who worked for South Western Bell and later C&P.
“I think it is wonderful that the Association has that many members that are ready to fights for our interest,” Ms. Becraft told the Association at the time, “It is very surprising that we ended up being the 100,000th members to join. What a stroke of luck. When we retired, we felt like the world forgot about us and there was nobody looking out for our interests. Now we are part of a group that looks out for each other and is always in your corner.”
With its membership reaching new heights, the Association’s leaders were busier than ever.
Fighting Golden Parachutes
Thanks to its growing army of supporters, the Association achieved another proxy bylaw change at Verizon in 2004. The company agreed to the terms of an Association proxy that severance agreements more than 2.99 times an executive’s base salary and bonus, would require the pre-approval of shareholders. The change coincided with Verizon’s listing on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
In 2005, under threat of another retiree proxy battle, Verizon agreed to rein in Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP) income for executives. So it was only fitting that the Association was awarded the prestigious National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s Salute to Aging Award, which recognized America’s top retiree activists committed to enhancing the quality of life for seniors and their families.
The Association continued to grow its efforts and network with other groups, traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
In the next few issues, we will continue to reflect on the Association’s proud and accomplished history. We ask that you please also share some stories about your years at the company or in retirement with us. Please write or email us your favorite memories or share them with us on Facebook. We look forward to hearing them.
Thank you for being part of our history and success.