Award Winning Retiree Group 

Shows How To Get It Done

TEST Representing Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, GTE and Verizon retirees, the Association of BellTel Retirees has over 100,000 members in the U.S. and abroad. TEST 

Founded in March 1996, the Association has spent nearly a decade fighting for the protection of the pensions and healthcare benefits of retirees from the companies that presently make up Verizon Communications. 

Co-founder, C. William Jones, the associationÂ’s president and executive director, worked for NYNEX for 30 years before he retired in 1990. The company had a decades-long history of giving its retirees a pension increase every two to three years. The increase was traditionally half the cost of the inflation rate, and senior executives would regularly tell workers to expect regular COLAs in retirement years, Jones said. 

Verizon Communication retirees have one of the more active 

retiree advocacy associations, holding regular meetings and 

events throughout the U.S. Here retirees picket outside the 

company's midtown Manhattan headquarters.

However, following a conversation with a former colleague in 1995 about their upcoming medical options, the two began discussing how the company had suddenly without notice stopped giving retirees these promised pension increases. 

“By the end of the conversation, we both realized that it had been a long time since we had a pension increase. In fact, the last time the company did was in 1991,” said Jones. 

The lack of pension increases troubled Jones and his colleague, Ed Ward, a former Marine who also had worked for NYNEX. Jones made several phone calls to the company’s Human Resources Department as a result. The company responded by saying that it had no plans to increase retirees’ pensions anytime soon. 

Nevertheless, if NYNEX retirees did not receive a pension increase by January 1996, Jones and Ward planned to take action. 

The two retirees gathered together with two other NYNEX retirees, Don Elitharp and Bob Rehm, for an informal meeting to discuss the company’s decision to stop pension increases for retirees. They later contacted two other retirees on Long Island, New York, Mike Kucklinca and Joe Ristuccia. 

They all spoke to telephone company Pioneer and other retiree groups about the lack of pension increases and how the possible change in corporate policy would negatively impact retirees. 

“We collected the names and addresses of 1,400 NYNEX retirees and composed a letter addressed to then NYNEX Chairman Ivan Seidenberg,” said Jones. “We were extremely surprised that Mr. Seidenberg wouldn’t dignify us with a response.” Seidenberg is currently Chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications. 

As a result of the non-response from the company’s leader, a fledgling retiree activist association was born. The group named themselves the Association of NYNEX Retirees. 

Each of the original six members of the Association contributed money to start the organization and to send out their first newsletter. 

A number of years later, NYNEX merged with Bell Atlantic and the retiree groupÂ’s name changed to the Association of BellTel Retirees, Inc. The group has kept this highly symbolic Bell System oriented name even after the company changed its name to Verizon in 1998, following another corporate merger with GTE. 

Since their inception, the BellTel Retirees have achieved several significant accomplishments. They helped win an increase in pension for thousands of retirees, who until the late 1990s, survived on minimum pensions, some as low as $3,600 a year. They also helped to precipitate a Special Lump Sum payment of as much as $20,000 to retiree annuitants who retired before 1995.

The Verizon retiree group have also held simultaneous multi-city 

events demonstrations like this one outside of the company's 

Boston offices.

They were also the first retiree organization in the U.S. to use corporate shareholder proxies as a means of pressuring corporate executives to reduce outlandish executive bonus and retirement packages. Their shareholder advocacy campaigns have defeated Verizon for three consecutive years from the year 2003 to 2005. This is unmatched in the annals of corporate shareholder proxy campaigns. 

With the help of their legal counsel, the BellTel Retirees also drafted federal legislation, which is now in Congress to aid retirees who have lost promised health care benefits that were reduced after entering retirement. 

“We asked to make an amendment to the ERISA Law to cover health care benefits. This would essentially provide the same security for health care benefits as there is for pension benefits,” said Jones. The amendment was drafted by former BellTel lawyer Michael Gordon, one of the original drafters of the ERISA law. 

The Association is also co-founder of the Washington, D.C. based National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN), an umbrella organization serving to protect the financial security of retirees through federal legislation. 

“As a group, we are quite proud of what has been accomplished for and with our fellow Verizon retirees,” said Jones. When we created the group we could not have envisioned the many retiree issues that need to be addressed and the dire need of so many retirees from all industries throughout the nation.” 

In May 2005 the group was honored in Washington, D.C. by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare for their retiree activism and work to enhance the quality of life for America’s seniors. 

One fact certainly underlining their efforts is that in 2004 the organization’s 14 Board members donated over 9,000 hours to the organization -- averaging out to more than sixteen 40-hour work weeks for each of the organization’s volunteer directors. 

The type of success, dedication and leadership exhibited by the BellTel Retirees has been a model for other retiree groups around the nation. 

Among others, Benefits Restoration Inc., a retiree group working to protect the benefits of IBM retirees, sought guidance and advice from the BellTel’s when they were getting started. 

“In November 2003, we held an organizational meeting in response to IBM’s announced increase of retiree health care premium costs. At that meeting, we met Bill Jones from BellTel Retirees, who immediately highlighted the fact that we would only get recognition if we chose to formally organize as a group,” said Sandy Anderson, President of the IBM retirees group. 

Since that November 2003 kick-off meeting, the IBM’ers have kept in constant contact with the BellTel Retirees who provided this mentoring. 

“Anytime we had questions, we could turn to the BellTelÂ’s. I’ve called them on a number of occasions to seek advice. They even guided us through the process of applying for organizational non-profit status. Their experience has been invaluable to us,” said Anderson. 

(L to R) Congressman John Tierney (6th District - Mass), Kevin Mahar, Co - 

Chairman of the GE Retirees' Justice Fund, and Association of BellTel Retirees 

President C. William Jones

Jones concluded, “We realized some years ago that our retirees and our association couldn’t go it alone and that is why it is equally important for us to not only fight for the economic protection of our Verizon retirees, but also help enable the efforts of retirees from other industries who might need a jump start in getting on the right path to representing the tens of millions of America’s other retirees left out in the cold.” 

Association of BellTel Retirees Inc.

Headquarters: Cold Spring Harbor, New York

Members: 100,000 

Mailing Address:

Association of BellTel Retirees Inc.

P.O. Box 33 

Cold Spring Harbor, New York 11724

Telephone: 631-367-3067 or 800-261-9222

Email Contact:

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