After Ma Bell’s Final Act 

When AT&T converted its Defined Pension Plan to a cash balance plan, it planted the seeds for a then fledgling retiree-advocacy organization. 


In 1998, the AT&T Concerned Employee and Retiree Organization (ACER) was born with a mission to preserve and protect pension and retirement benefits for all AT&T employees and retirees. 


More than half a decade later, the group has a pending federal lawsuit against AT&T. The case, Engers vs. AT&T Management Pension Plan is based on the assertion that AT&T’s pension plan conversion is and has been inconsistent with ERISA and Age Discrimination Laws. 


Through informing and educating their retirees and even active employees on the often complicated issues with the conversion of defined benefit pensions to cash value pensions, the AT&T retirees hope to encourage action to help restore benefits promised to them in their working years. 


According to the ERISA Law, pension plan participants must be informed of any change or modification made to an existing plan. Changes should be stated in a written document, and passed along to employees for inspection and confirmation. 


AT&T retiree leaders believe that the company failed to meet these requirements. They claim there was no official documentation and notification to beneficiaries of this plan until two years after the fact.




The company’s cash-balance pension plan was activated between 1997 and 1998. However, the retiree group argues that AT&T did not make cash balance amendments available to participants for inspection until it was too late, in October 2000. 

This had retirees up in arms and fighting to get their pensions reinstated.


When AT&T converted its Defined Pension Plan to a cash balance plan, it planted the seeds for a then fledgling retiree-advocacy organization. 


In 1998, the AT&T Concerned Employee and Retiree Organization (ACER) was born with a mission to preserve and protect pension and retirement benefits for all AT&T employees and retirees. 


More than half a decade later, the group has a pending federal lawsuit against AT&T. The case, Engers vs. AT&T Management Pension Plan is based on the assertion that AT&T’s pension plan conversion is and has been inconsistent with ERISA and Age Discrimination Laws. 


Through informing and educating their retirees and even active employees on the often complicated issues with the conversion of defined benefit pensions to cash value pensions, the AT&T retirees hope to encourage action to help restore benefits promised to them in their working years. 


According to the ERISA Law, pension plan participants must be informed of any change or modification made to an existing plan. Changes should be stated in a written document, and passed along to employees for inspection and confirmation. 


AT&T retiree leaders believe that the company failed to meet these requirements. They claim there was no official documentation and notification to beneficiaries of this plan until two years after the fact.


DO THE MATH: 

The retiree’s website, www.att-retirees.org, provides employees and retirees with an estimator, calculating the amount of pension money a retiree was entitled to, according to figures AT&T provided them in their working years. 


John LeMoine, who retired after 25 years with the Old Ma Bell, said this paperwork documents that his AT&T pension should have been $2,800 per month plus medical benefits upon his 2000 retirement. 


“In 1996, I received a statement from AT&T that said I had $264,000 in my retirement account. After the cash conversion, I received another statement in 1997, which said that my pension went from $264,000 to $94,000. When I retired in 2000, it had only gone up to $131,000. Where did the money go,” said LeMoine. 


“The only profit we can make is the reinstatement of our benefits”, he added. 


The group is working to maintain contact with not only retirees, but AT&T employees to offer early warnings on the issues that have plagued them. However, LeMoine says the company frequently blocks emails from the retiree group to active employees. 


“We want to warn them that when they retire, they aren’t getting the money that they expected from the company,” LeMoine said. 


ACER claims a current membership of more than 100,000, which may increase following SBC’s recent acquisition of Ma Bell. 


A DIFFERENT COMPANY ON THE HORIZON: 

On January 31, 2005, SBC, one of the original Baby Bells divested in the 1984 breakup of AT&T, announced that it was going to acquire the company that was once the most widely held stock and largest and most respected corporation in America and the world. 


In the late 1990s, AT&T shares traded as high as about $125, and it was among the largest capitalized stocks on Wall Street. When the Standard & Poor 500 Index made its debut in 1957, AT&T was the largest stock by market capitalization in the world at somewhere around $11.2 billion. But by 2005, SBC was able to pick up what was left of the company for only about $16 billion. 


LeMoine, who at one point in his AT&T career was assigned to work for SBC, and some of his fellow AT&T retirees actually look favorably upon the takeover of the communications giant after its fall from grace on Wall Street and Main Street, USA. 


Although it is too early to see any direct impact of SBC’s ownership on the retirees cause, the ACER leaders maintain a positive outlook. 


“Maybe after SBC buys out AT&T, they may look more favorably on our lawsuit,” said LeMoine.

ORGANIZATION INFORMATION

AT&T Concerned Employee and Retiree Organization (ACER)
Headquarters: Bigfork, Montana 

Mailing Address:
AT&T Concerned Employee and Retiree Organization
PO Box 1013 
Bigfork, MT 59911

Telephone: 406-837-2263
Email Contact: assoc@attretirees.org
web site: www.AttRetirees.org
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