The Official Newsletter of Bell Atlantic Retirees.
By now you have received the February 1, 2000 letter from Bell Atlantic announcing that it is making a special one-time payment to eligible retirees. You have also had a chance to examine the chart provided and find the amount that you can expect to receive. I will guess that many of you are extremely pleased. I will also guess that some of you are very unhappy with the amount you will receive. I am equally sure that there are many who fall somewhere in between. Your Association Board feels exactly the same as you do. We are very excited that the company has finally recognized the need to help retirees. At the same time we are disappointed that many retirees are not being treated fairly.
The Association has conducted two analyses in an effort to determine the fairness of this plan. One looks back to determine how well the lump sum makes up for the lack of pension increases in the past. The second looks forward and measures how the lump sum will help us in the future.
Analysis 1) We will show a few pension levels, at different retirement dates, the various lump sum amounts compared to the amount one would have expected had the policy of ad hoc pension increases been continued. It is important to note that a 20 year history (1971-1991) of inflation (CPI) and ad hoc pension increases shows that over that period the company granted an increase every 2.5 years for an amount approximating one half of inflation. This is the basis for our analysis because when we retired we expected the company to continue the ad hoc pension increase policy.
Referring to the chart, you can see that those who retired six years ago received a lump sum exceeding their expectations, as we defined above. However, for those who retired ten years ago, the lump sum payment is woefully inadequate. These are the people who have suffered ten years of inflation without a single pension increase. (Retirees of Bell Atlantic - South were treated somewhat better since most received increases in 1993 and some received another increase in 1996.) Retirees who retired fifteen, twenty or more years ago and whose pension is $30,000 or less were given significantly fairer lump sum payments. This raises the question as to why retirees with pensions above $30,000 should be treated so poorly. Those people worked hard to earn their pension and do not deserve to have it eroded.
Analysis 2) Another way to look at this lump sum payment is to calculate what percent increase it represents in our pension. This is because we have an idea as to what percent inflation is and we want to stay as close as we can to that percent in order to avoid falling further behind. One way to do this is to convert the lump sum payment into a lifetime annuity. Once this is done we can look at the annual annuity, paid monthly, and compare it to our pension and see what the percent increase is. In order to simplify the process, we chose four representative individuals to use as examples.
Example 1: A 55 year old female with a $25,000 pension receives a lump sum payment of $5,700. Converted to a lifetime annuity, she would receive $43.58 per month for life, representing a 2.1 percent increase in her pension. This would have the effect of offsetting a about one year’s inflation.
Example 2: A 60 year old male with a pension of $15,000 receives a $4,900 lump sum payment. Converted to a lifetime annuity, he would receive $43.92 per month for life, representing a 3.5 percent pension increase. This would offset the effects of inflation for about two years.
Example 3: A 65 year old female with a $30,000 pension receives a $11,900 lump sum payment. Converted to a lifetime annuity she would receive $104.42 per month for life, representing a 4.2 percent increase. This would offset the effects of a little more than two years of inflation.
Example 4: A 75 year old male with a $20,000 pension receives a $20,000 lump sum payment. Converted to a lifetime annuity, he would receive $268.83 per month for life, representing a 16.1 percent pension increase. This would offset the effects of inflation for an estimated six to eight years.
These examples are offered just to demonstrate how at various ages, pension amounts and lump sum amounts one can determine the going-forward effect on retiree’s pensions. It must be kept in mind that our Analysis # 1 looked backward to evaluate how well the lump sum payment made up for the lack of increases in the past. Analysis # 2 evaluates only the going-forward effect, forgetting the losses due to inflation in the past.
Clearly, the Association would have preferred the company to grant an across-the-board pension increase. It would provide a continual stream of income into the future without the possible negative tax implications of a lump sum. Further, it is extremely unfortunate that the payment was not calculated in a more even-handed and fair manner. Entire groups of retirees were treated so poorly as to cast a negative light on the entire payment plan - too bad since hundreds of millions are to be spent and it could and should have had a very positive result.
*A word(s) from one of our sponsors*
On January 12, 2000 the Association voted to appoint Rosel Patton, an active Bell Atlantic employee and a active member of the Bell Atlantic Employees Coalition for Retirement Security (BAECRS), to its Board of Directors. The Association is eager to embrace and incorporate Patton’s unique insight as someone who is on the front lines in the fight for employee and retiree pension and benefit rights.
Since 1996, Patton has served as a Specialist in Local Switch Design Engineering in Bell Atlantic’s Marlborough, Massachusetts office. She has been with the company in several capacities including: C. O. Technician, Splice Technician, Customer Service Representative and Operator. She joined the company in 1969. Patton holds a masters degree in management that she received from Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1996. She is a licensed real estate broker and has interests in music, landscape design and her pets. She is happily married, has one son and lives in Worchester, Massachusetts.
One year ago, I reported to you how important the year 1999 would be. I reviewed our proxy initiative, our litigation and legislative efforts, our plans for the Bell Atlantic and GTE Annual Shareholder Meetings and our own Association’s Annual Membership Meeting. Today it is clear that 1999 was the most important year in the last ten for retirees. The reason is that this year for the first time the company recognized that it must listen to our collective pleas for help. This Association’s explosive growth is the direct result of the company’s ten years of neglect of retiree issues. In 1999 we saw the first evidence that our efforts were paying off.
The first piece of good news was the raising of the minimum pensions, the first step of a three-year program to raise pensions to a minimum of $700.00 per month. The program will improve earnings for over 20,000 retirees by the year 2001. The second was the agreement to improve the calculation of Cash Balance Plan conversions that resulted from the efforts of our sister organization, Bell Atlantic Employees Coalition for Retirement Security (BAECRS). Of course the latest piece of good news was the announcement of the lump sum payment to all service and disability retirees (who receive monthly pension payments) who retired before February 1, 1995.
Obviously we are extremely pleased and heartened that these three improvements were made. I understand that CEO, Mr. Ivan Seidenberg, is to be thanked for hearing our message and taking action. However, as always seems to be the case, the company did not go nearly far enough to erase the injustices of the past nor address the concerns of the future. The Cash Balance issues are addressed in another article so I will not comment here. I do want to point out some of the problems with the recently announced lump sum payment. If we look at this payment as a means of making retirees whole for the lack of pension increases for as much as ten years, most retirees who retired about six years ago will do very well. However, all retirees, who retired ten years ago and have not received pension increases since 1991, will be seriously shortchanged. It is difficult to understand how the company can think it is fair to give 1995 retirees nothing, 1996 retirees significantly more than their expectations and 1990 retirees a totally unacceptable amount. Another way to look at this one-time payment is that it is intended to ease the effects of inflation in the future, putting aside losses in the past. This analysis also shows that no matter which way you look at the lump sum payment, some retirees will be treated very well and others will be treated very unfairly. Details of our analysis concerning the lump sum payments are contained in a separate article.
Our persistence, supported by your advocacy and your financial support of the Association is paying dividends and will continue to do so in the coming years, but we must not let down our guard. This lump sum is, in many cases, inadequate and unfair. Some retirees are left out of this plan completely. We also have no assurances from the company that there will be ad hoc or COLA increases in the future. Further, this one-time payment may cause retirees serious income tax consequences in the year 2001, something you will want to consult your accountant about. Finally, nothing has been done to reverse the disastrous trend in our healthcare plans. That is why we cannot sit by complacently and be satisfied. We must continue to use our influence from all sides upon the company – in Washington, through Proxy proposals, and in the courts – for economic justice for all retirees.
In that regard, we are disappointed and frustrated that we were not able to actually file our lawsuit or to report that our legislation is before Congress and the Senate. But matters such as these require the utmost in care and painstaking research to insure that we have the best chance for success. I can assure you that a great deal of work has been done and that both of these important parts of our strategy are in the final stages of completion.
I have confidence that our members will continue to stand behind us and financially support us in our efforts to protect and enhance retirement benefits. We are not alone in this battle. Active employees, who are concerned about their retirement benefits, are joining our Association and we have added an active employee to our board. Further, retirees from many different industries have decided to break their silence and join us in having their voices heard. This groundswell of grassroots activism will be of great help to us because it will give us greater numbers of supporters throughout the country where we are not very well represented. It will also provide us with a face that is truly national rather than one that reflects merely a single company.
So I say again, "boy, the year 2000 is going to be really important and I wish you all the best in this important year!"
Within the next two months, Bell Atlantic will mail all shareholders a proxy statement, annual report and an invitation to the 2000 Annual Meeting of Shareholders. It is extremely important that you exercise your right to vote your shares in the most constructive manner in order to send an important message to the leaders of Bell Atlantic.
Last year your Association and three of its officers and former officers put forth two proxy proposals that received impressive votes. Our proposal regarding the composition of the Board of Directors received 190 million votes and our anti-golden parachute proposal received 306 million votes. While these votes fell short of a majority they certainly attracted a lot of attention and concern from Bell Atlantic officers.
We hope, with your help, to significantly increase the vote on our proposals this year with an all-out effort.
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 and encouraging your friends and family who own Bell Atlantic stock to do the same:
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 Board of Directors and the proposals as recommended below, sign, date and return it in the self-addressed envelope.
If you choose OPTION1:
While the thought of entering a nursing home or hiring a 24-hour nurse may seem a distant worry for many, the task of attaining long-term care can become a sudden and costly problem. Anyone who has faced the hardship of a loved one needing this kind of care knows how the experience can be devastating emotionally. Planning for the cost ahead of time may help ease the physical and mental toll the process inevitably inflicts.
In January 1999, when President Clinton laid out long-term care initiatives he said, "… the baby boom is about to become a senior boom, and like the baby boom, the senior boom will change the face of America." When Clinton signed into law the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HR 3103), he stated, "With this bill we take a long step toward the kind of healthcare reform our nation needs." But the government may not be able to handle the cost of providing long-term care to its aging baby boomers. The following Q&A is designed to give you a better idea of the details surrounding long-term care insurance.
Q. What is the chance that I will need LTC?
A. Some estimates say nearly half of all people over age 65 will spend some time in a nursing home.
Q. How much do LTC services cost?
A. The average cost of a year in a nursing home is $40,000 nationally, and can reach as high as $80,000 or more in major cities. The cost of home and community based care will vary greatly depending on how frequently you receive services and for how long. Generally, home care costs run about two-thirds the cost of nursing home care.
Q. What services do LTC policies cover?
A. Most policies will pay for care in a variety of settings—at home, adult day care, respite care, and care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Better policies will pay to modify your home and other ancillary services associated with a long-term care need. Long-term care insurance won’t put you in a nursing home; it will help keep you out of one.
Q. Will the government (Medicare and Medicaid) pay for my LTC needs?
A. Medicare pays for less than two percent of nursing home costs. It only covers you if you are over 65, have been hospitalized for three days and are receiving skilled nursing care. Some 98 percent of care provided in a nursing facility is NOT skilled care.
Q. What is the cost of LTC insurance?
A. LTC policies are similar to other insurance policies in that the cost will vary based on your age and the total dollar benefit amount purchased. The premium for a comprehensive policy for $4,500 per month of benefits with an inflation rider for a 60 year old is about $162 per month. A similar policy would cost about $322 per month for a 70 year old and just $115 per month for a 50 year old. Or, you can lower your premium by purchasing a 3-year benefit instead of a 5-year benefit and a simple inflation rider as opposed to a compounded one. In this case, the monthly premiums would be as follows: Age 50: $62.00 per month. Age 60: $100.00 per month. Age 70: $ 221.00 per month. LTC insurance is issued based upon age and health. This means the younger you are, the lower your premium and a requirement that you must be in reasonably good health to get a policy. Anyone over the age of 50 should consider a policy. Almost all people between 50 and 60 years of age qualify. Over the age of 60 the percentage begins to drop due to medical conditions. Long term care insurance premiums can be deductible as an unreimbursed medical expense, but check first with your accountant or tax preparer. Talk with your local or family insurance agent for more information on LTC insurance policies, options and premiums.
The Bell Atlantic Employees Coalition for Retirement Security (BAECRS) was formed by concerned employees in October of 1999. BAECRS is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization that is working to correct pension inequities for active Bell Atlantic management employees. Coalition members provide mutual support and information and together champion the cause of workers whose expected pensions have been unfairly diminished by the conversion from a traditional defined-benefit plan to a Cash Balance Plan.
In most traditional defined-benefit plans, benefits are figured on the basis of service and final years of pay. Under this plan, workers with longer years of service are rewarded with larger benefits since pay is usually highest in the final years of service. Whereas cash balance plans function like defined-contribution plans where the company makes a defined contribution into an individual retirement account for each worker, and promises that the money in that account will ‘earn’ a specific interest rate each year.
Bell Atlantic’s original conversion to the cash balance plan was devastating to the retirement plans of many middle-aged and older workers with losses of future benefits ranging from 20% - 50%. This conversion occurred just as these workers reached the age where the old formula began to sharply raise the value of their future pension. The new cash balance plan does not allow them the time to make up that loss.
BAECRS Joins belltel Retirees Board of Directors
BAECRS member, Rosel Patton, Bell Atlantic – North, was recently added to the Association of belltel Retirees Board of Directors, to represent active employees (future retirees). A second representative from Bell Atlantic - South will be added shortly. Partnering with the Association of belltel Retirees makes perfect sense; bringing these two groups together is a natural alliance and will result in a positive collaboration. BAECRS urges all working employees to join the belltel Retirees and to show support for our joint efforts.
BAECRS Goes to Washington
In early January, three of our BAECRS Steering Committee members attended the two-day seminar of the Coalition for Retirement Security in Washington, D.C. This was an excellent opportunity to make contacts on Capital Hill, to participate in legislation reform and to form relationships to assist in our quest for pension reform. During the seminar, our group met with representatives from other members of the Coalition, including the belltel Retiree representatives, and most notably, Evelyn Adams, the leader of the IBM Employees group who has been extremely helpful in sharing the IBEC ideas, strategies and contacts. (Visit the IBM employees website at www.cashpensions.com)
The seminar included sessions with representatives from the Department of Labor: Leslie Kramerich, Assistant Secretary, and Alan Liebowitz, Deputy Secretary. During the workshop session we met with Andy Lang, the actuary whose former firm put together the Bell Atlantic Cash Balance Plan. He is extremely upset with those actuarial society members who have been instrumental in manipulating actuarial assumptions so as to create corporate plans that harm the average worker. He agreed to support our efforts to correct methods and formulas used in the Bell Atlantic conversion to the Cash Balance Plan.
Other workshop activities included brainstorming with the Pension Rights Center legal team to work toward the rewrite of the ERISA laws and to enact changes to Cash Balance Plans through both the House and the Senate.
BAECRS had buttons printed that display the name of our organization and our website (www.bapensions.org). A Post Office box has been established for donations (BAECRS, PO Box 53487, Philadelphia, PA 19105) and requests for an informational package. (Anyone interested, please send your donation plus $1.50 for shipping to the PO Box and be sure to include your home address.)
Cash Balance Plan Changes…What Does It Mean?
On January 19th, Bell Atlantic Human Resources (HR) department responded to the groundswell of complaints and announced an alternative "greater of" provision to its Cash Balance Plan (CBP). This provision provides that workers with 15 years of service will have their pension calculated under both the Cash Balance Plan and a Modified Former Pension Plan. This change to the pension plan would pay the manager the "greater of" the two figures, and still give employees all the payout options, including lump sum. Sound good? Don’t get too excited yet. Although the revision is certainly a step in the right direction, BAECRS members are disappointed that it is woefully inadequate and leaves several inequities. The BAECRS responded to Bell Atlantic and itemized eight flaws in the plan that needed to be addressed. The two most important are: 1) the base window (1987-1991) must be changed to use employees’ salary earned during the last five years of service, and 2) the age penalty for "early retirement" must be eliminated.
The BAECRS Steering Committee and its members have challenged Bell Atlantic HR and the Board of Directors to do the right thing for all of their "valued employees" and address the concerns noted in their response.
BAECRS remains committed to improving the pensions of all affected management employees and restoring the pension amounts taken away by the Cash Balance Plan. BAECRS will continue to work to bring positive closure to this issue so that the corporation can move forward, united in purpose and become the world-class organization it wants to be.
BAECRS looks forward to working closely with the Association of belltel Retirees in this and other efforts to ensure our benefits now and in the future.
Are you on the Internet? If you are, we want you to subscribe to our "Keep Me Posted" system. Subscription is free and allows us to communicate with you quickly. Here is how it works.
Go to the home page, click on the "Keep Me Posted" icon and follow the instructions. Once you are signed up you will receive an acknowledgement notice that confirms that you are on the system.
We promise not to flood your e-mail with lots of messages and we will not share this information with others. We will only use the System when we feel that we have important information to get in your hands. This will be particularly important to us when our legislation is ready to be launched and we need your help. Please, sign up today.
For those already on the system, we receive messages from members who want us to change their "Keep Me Posted" e-mail address. We cannot change your address. In order to make a change, sign up your new address, as described above, and when the acknowledgement is received it will include instructions as to how to cancel your old address. Thanks for your cooperation and, stay tuned.
Fourth Annual Association Meeting
The fourth annual general membership meeting of the Association of belltel Retirees Inc. will be held in Syracuse, New York on Friday, June 9th, 2000 at the Liverpool Holiday Inn Convention Center (formerly the Sheraton Inn).
Registration will begin at 8:00 A.M. followed by a social get-together with continental breakfast from 8:30 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. The business portion of the meeting will begin promptly at 10:15 A.M. and will wind up at around noon. The agenda includes presentations and discussions on the Association’s legislative drive as well as a briefing prepared by the Association’s lawyers concerning the status of the civil action lawsuit against the company. Membership and Treasurer’s reports will chronicle our Association’s growth and financial status. Discussion of current pension and benefit situations and an opportunity for member Q&A will also take place.
We expect a large turnout to this year’s convention since the local telephone life members from Syracuse and the surrounding areas will be holding their "2000 Celebration" on the same day and at the same place as our meeting. Therefore, the meeting is a great opportunity to catch up with old life member acquaintances and to share ideas on our mutual struggle for retiree rights. The life members were extremely helpful in organizing the event and are very much looking forward to interacting with our members.
The Association selected Syracuse to hold this year’s annual meeting as part of its continuing effort to reach out to its geographically diverse membership. Past conventions were held in Long Island, NY, Boston, MA, and last year’s site, Atlantic City, NJ. Many of the 450 members who attended last year’s convention found not only a renewed sense of solidarity for our cause, but an updated phone number of an old colleague from the days at the company or a chance to take in the town with old friends. We are hoping for a similar turnout and reaction to this year’s meeting in Syracuse.
Syracuse is located at the geographical center of New York State and is accessible from The New York State Thruway (I-90) and I-81, the two main arteries of the state. There will be free parking and all convention activities will take place on the ground floor of the hotel. Syracuse is not only a short drive away from local New York cities such as Binghamton, Rochester and Albany, it is easily accessible for our Pennsylvania members who need only drive two hours from the border. For other transportation information please call Association member Jan Riley at (315) 448-0266 or email her at email@example.com. There are plenty of things to do within and around the city and in the beautiful upstate New York region for those members who wish to take advantage of the meeting’s Friday date and make a weekend adventure out of the opportunity (See "Central New York For the Weekend").
If you wish to attend this year’s annual meeting, please fill out the application and send it along with a check for $5.00 per person to the Association by May 25, 2000. An admission ticket will be mailed to you. If you have any questions about the 2000 annual meeting, please call John Parente at (518) 372-0526.
After taking care of business and catching up with old friends at the convention, why not take advantage of the Friday date and make a weekend journey out of your trip to beautiful upstate New York? The Greater Syracuse area boasts countless museums, restaurants, tour guides, parks, and other recreational opportunities and within a short driving distance there can be found world-renowned tourist attractions. For more information on touring and traveling in the region call (800) CALL-NYS. Here are some suggestions.
Tours and Festivals
1. 21st Annual Coors Light Balloon Festival: During the weekend of the convention, Syracuse will be hosting this annual balloon festival in which over 40 balloons take off from Jamesville Beach and float around the city. Tel: (315) 451-7275
2. Canal Cruises: A nightly dinner cruise departs at 6pm and travels through the historic Baldwinsville Lock to Onondaga Lake for a view of the Syracuse skyline. Tel: (315) 685-8500
3. Ontrack: Travel back in time and enjoy the scenery of Central New York aboard the famous Susquehanna No. 142 steam locomotive. Take a ride or even have dinner aboard one of these classic marvels of engineering. Tel: (800) FOR-TRAIN
4. The Syracuse Discovery Trail: The city of Syracuse has provided its visitors with a "Discovery Trail" which guides culture hungry tourists through six museums and a zoo. Beginning in downtown, learn about the Erie Canal at the Erie Canal Museum. Then explore the growth of Central New York, as stimulated by the Canal, at the Onondaga Historical Association Museum. Then visit the new Museum of Science & Technology in Historic Armory Square. Check out the Everson Museum of Art’s collection of 19th and 20th century American, Oriental, African and Central and South American art. After a stop at the Burnet Park Zoo, move on to the Salt Museum, which traces the Salt City’s roots to the 19th century, Onondaga salt industry. Finally, wrap up the tour with a trip to the Sainte Marie Among The Iroquois, a living history museum that recreates the original lifestyle of French explorers and Iroquois natives on the shores of Onondaga Lake.
5. The Lowe Art Gallery: The exhibition space of the School of Art, College of Visual and Performing Arts, the annual schedule includes historical, critical, faculty and student exhibitions, which are free and open to the public. Tel: (315) 443-4098
6. The Museum of Automobile History: The largest museum of its kind in the world, the museum features over 10,000 objects on display devoted to the history of automobiles, trucks and motorcycles from the 19th century to the present. Tel: (315) 478-CARS (478-2277)
7. Museum of Science and Technology: Explore three levels filled with hundreds of hands-on activities and exhibits for children and adults as well as daily demonstrations. Visit the planetarium and a giant dome movie theater with state-of-the-art sound. Tel: (315) 425-9068
8. Armory Square: this unique shopping district in downtown Syracuse boasts several antique shops, gift boutiques, bookstores, professional hair salons and restaurants. Shoppers can also find jewelry stores, children’s clothing, men and women’s fashions, hobby and music supplies and more.
A Short Drive Away:
9. Skaneateles Village and Lake Tour: This quaint lakeside village about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse features shops, restaurants, cottages, hotels, and tours of Skaneateles Lake.
10. Vernon Downs: After the convention, blow off some steam for a night at the track in Vernon, NY. Tel: (315) 829-2201
11. Finger Lakes/Wine Country: Just two hours west of Syracuse are a collection of long, narrow "finger" lakes that make up New York State’s pristine wine country. Each lake community has its own unique wineries, hotels, shopping, restaurants and lake tours. The area is also know for its beautiful waterfalls and world-class hunting and fishing. For more information call Uncork New York at (800) 440-4898 or check out http://www.fingerlakes.net.
12. Turning Stone Casino: This Verona, NY casino is the state’s newest entertainment destination. In addition to a large selection of table games, the Oneida Indian Nation enterprise also features three restaurants and a gift shop. Tel: (315) 361-7711
13. Thousand Islands Seaway Region: Take a trip to this waterway paradise about three hours north of Syracuse and explore the fishing, boating, hiking, golfing, tennis and camping this popular vacation spot has to offer. Call the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council at (800) 8-ISLAND for more information.
14. Niagara Falls: This international destination attracts over 10 million visitors annually from all over the world. Just minutes from the falls, you’ll find Niagara’s quaint cities, towns, and villages. Visit a local apple orchard or farm, explore an historic landmark, or shop in one of the picturesque villages that highlight the region. Niagara is also well known as a year-round, world-class sport fishing destination. Call the Niagara County Tourism Board at (716) 439-7300.
15. The Adirondack Mountains: This region in Northern New York
contains 3,000 ponds and lakes, 2,000 miles of hiking trails, more
four-star resorts than any other destination in the state, nearly 100
campgrounds and, of course, the Adirondack Mountains. Contact the
Adirondack Regional Tourism Council at (518) 846-8016 for more
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.
Preparations for filing an ERISA civil action to restore retiree health benefits taken away by Bell Atlantic are virtually complete. As soon as documentation concerning certain allegations are reviewed and assembled in the form of supporting exhibits to be attached to the complaint, the technical process for filing the lawsuit will be finished and the case will be ready for filing. Assuming there are no procedural obstacles that crop up and cause further delay, it is likely the case will be filed before the end of February.
One of the reasons why it has taken longer than usual to prepare our retiree health case for filing is the appearance of further case law hostile to the interests of retirees. Our attorneys have concluded that we maximize our chances of success by being able to demonstrate that even though our allegations of retiree health plan violations sound similar to the unsuccessful complaints made by other retiree groups, on close examination it will be seen that our claims stand on a different footing and have not been given thorough consideration by the courts. Unlike other cases, our complaint will show that the most logical interpretation of the Bell Atlantic plans involved is that medical and dental benefits were promised to the retirees for their "lifetimes." Properly interpreted, therefore, the specific terms in the plans precluded any post-retirement cutbacks in retirees’ medical and dental benefits. By making such cutbacks, Bell Atlantic not only violated the provisions of the plans, it also violated the ERISA law regulating such plans.
We think we have a powerful case but we are being extra-careful to make sure that our case is not sidetracked on some technicality. So stay tuned: when this case is filed it will make waves.
By Joe Ristuccia
The first step in launching our legislative campaign is complete. We have drafted and distributed copies of our bill to Association volunteers as well as Coalition members to actively solicit congressional legislators to be chief sponsors of our "Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act."
We have had serious contacts with congressional members who have expressed interest in introducing our bill. Our efforts have been concentrated on those members who are on the important Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as well as those on the House Committee on Education and Workforce. Our volunteers have contacted and met with congressional staffers both in Washington as well as in their home districts. As of this printing, we have had strong interest but as of yet, we are awaiting positive commitments to introduce the bill.
Part of the reason for the delay is that Congress was extremely busy in its last session with budget and other pressing matters. So much so that they were held over into their Christmas break. Congress has returned from the January break and we have been following up on our contacts. Another thing to keep in mind is that while health care issues are a high priority with the public, we have to get members of Congress to move the issue of retiree health care to a higher priority level. That is where our members will be able to help. We want Congressional and Senatorial offices to be flooded with mail on this subject. We need to separate our issue from the many competing issues facing Congress. We will notify you and provide you with the necessary information when the proper time comes. In the meantime the "Emergency Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act" will be posted on the Association’s website (www.belltelretirees.org). Members who are on the internet should become familiar with its provisions. We know that we can count on your help.
The final figures for 1999 are in and it is interesting to note that our Association has members in 7 foreign countries and 49 states; we’re missing North Dakota. Not surprising, most of our members (83%) live in 6 eastern states. In order, largest first, are: New York (13,902), New Jersey (9,949), Pennsylvania (4,488), Florida (4,022), Massachusetts (3,301) and Maryland (2,606). Other areas of note include: New Hampshire which boasts 1,600 retirees and strong representative organizations in Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island making up another 1,200-plus retirees. Southern states are also coming on strong with 1,500 members in Virginia, 1,000 in West Virginia, and 1,000 in North and South Carolina.
New York members provide the most in total dollars of member contributions since this is where we have been able to identify the highest concentration of retirees. But, it is interesting to note that, based on the number of names we have on our file, the highest percent contribution for these six largest states is Massachusetts at 47%, well above second place Florida at 35%. In the states with smaller membership numbers, Rhode Island leads with 56% contributions followed by Maine with 53% and North Carolina with 41%. The overall average contribution for 1999 was very close across the entire country with Maryland leading with a high of $23.17.
What does all of this mean? Only that we value every member, we appreciate all contributions large and small and we promise to use those contributions wisely to protect and enhance your retirement benefits.
We have accomplished growth in members from 2 to over 46,000 retirees without any help from the company. From the outset, they have steadfastly refused to offer us even one retiree name or address. They choose to share that information with credit card companies and travel agencies, but not to its own retirees fighting to help the people that built the company.
You can help us by telling your Bell Atlantic retired friends about our Association or by giving us their names and addresses so that we can put them on our mailing list. As impressive as our membership numbers are, we only have about one third of the Bell Atlantic retirees on our mailing list.
to the Editor
I read with much interest an article in your latest newsletter by an old Bell acquaintance, Jack Brennen, concerning the days of visiting retirees and reporting on their welfare, or lack thereof.
As past Chapter President of the Telephone Pioneers of America, (remember them?) I also was quite involved in the well being of our Life Members. These were the days when ALL employees were "Family;" the days when the Pioneer Office would notify the Chapter and local Council President of an illness and/or passing of a Family member. The funeral parlors were crowded with friends and associates. Now you may read of a retiree’s passing several weeks later in a cold Company newsletter insert. In my opinion, there is no longer a functioning Telephone Pioneer organization.
Little did I ever suspect that I would someday be on the other side of the ledger? Now, I can only talk to a recording. To speak to a "human" appears to be a task in futility!
I seem to fall into all of the categories that you and your readers write about. After all, what the great "company" analysts always purposely forget is that everyone’s case is different.
My first wife developed a terminal disease, which had no known cause or cure. She was given five to six months to live and gave it one hell of a fight for eighteen months. She was thirty-eight years young. The Gurus of the insurance industry declared that all treatment given to such an illness of unknown cause or cure was "experimental" and therefore – not covered under the plan. The many weeks she spent in Johns Hopkins, Mayo and St. Joseph hospitals combined with 24 hour care at home resulted in staggering medical bills for which there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
The selling of my home, firearm collection, camper et-al was just something that had to be done. College tuition’s that were to commence three years later were also something that could not be ignored
Seeking additional income, I ran for public office and was assisted out the door as being in conflict. (Remember when the company pushed you into active community offices?) I retired in March 1990 as Staff Manager after being advised that there would be no further buy-outs. The next buy-out came in April!
Much of my time is spent each day searching for meaningful employment. While it is not legal to advise that I am too old, the reply usually states simply that I am "overqualified".
I suffer no bitterness for my challenges in life. The Lord blessed me well with a great wife and three wonderful adopted children. What I do suffer with are the memories of the years of my total adult life given 24 hours a day to a company that refuses to consider even the cost of living increases to their retirees who gave their lives to provide the warm well-equipped offices that keep their butts warm and their bellies swollen. The next news release may well be the sale of the Company to Foreign interests that do not have to legally protect our coveted pension monies.
ASK THESE QUESTIONS BEFORE
DECIDING ON A HEALTH CARE PLAN.
DOES THE PLAN:
OTHER QUESTIONS TO ASK INCLUDE:
Donald H. Elitharp
Donald H. Elitharp, retired division manager with 36 years of telephone service and a charter member of the belltel Retirees Board of Directors, passed away on October 5, 1999.
Don graduated from St. Lawrence University where he was an outstanding athlete and Phi Beta Kappa. He served in the US Navy during WWII. Don and his wife Jeanne recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary with children Kathy, Dan and Mary and spouses along with their six grandchildren.
Don’s life revolved around athletics and the spirit of competition. He won numerous championships in tennis and platform tennis on Long Island and metropolitan regional events. He was also noted for his wonderful wit, especially in stressful situations.
Ed Ward, co-founder of the Association, delivered the eulogy at Don’s wake service and the Rev. Bob Schwarz, a retired telephone district manager and now an Episcopal minister, led the prayer service. God bless you Don, and thanks for adding something special to many lives.
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.