Volume I, Issue 2
Welcome to the second issue of the NRLN Newsletter.
For most of you, this is your first newsletter as a
member of the NRLN. This is to acknowledge your application and receipt of
dues and to thank you for becoming a new member. The response to our appeal
for new members has been very impressive. Congratulations on deciding to
join an organization where thousands of retired and pre-retired Americans
have united in a common cause.
The National Retiree Legislative Network, Inc. (NRLN)
was formed several years ago by a group of retirees, just like you, who had
become dissatisfied in the manner in which they were being treated by their
This is an important year for us, because it offers
us an opportunity to change the composition of Congress to one where we may
have a better opportunity to pass legislation that is sympathetic to our
issues and concerns. Remember, politically, we are non-partisan. As a
grassroots organization we must work together and, therefore, we will be
asking for your support on legislation that impacts us as the year unfolds.
As a member of NRLN, you will periodically receive
new issues of NRLN Focus containing the latest news and commentary on
the issues affecting your health care and pension programs.
Best wishes and good luck.
A VIEW FROM WASHINGTON
It has been a challenging year in Washington. Your
National Retiree Legislative Network has focused its energies during this
session of Congress by actively lobbying Members on a number of key
initiatives that directly affect health care and pension benefits of our
Passage of H.R. 1322 – legislation that we both wrote and
introduced into the House of Representatives. (Emergency Retiree Health
Benefits Protection Act, an amendment to ERISA to provide protection for
retiree health benefits.)
A proposed rule by the Federal Accounting Standards Board
(FASB) that would require publicly traded companies to list the value of
stock options as an expense on their financial statements.
A bipartisan effort in Congress to allow reimportation of
lower cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.
Congressional repeal of SEC420 and 401(H). As written, this
United States Code allows corporations to use various means to skim pension
trusts to enhance corporate profits.
Our challenge continues to be great.
Getting Congress to focus on issues other than the Middle East and the
re-election is difficult, and health care costs and pension protection are
subjects that are, apparently, too difficult and controversial for those
we’ve elected to represent us in Washington. Both Republicans and Democrats
have been falling down on the job when dealing with these issues. The
Republicans failed us by promoting and passing the Prescription Drug
Amendment which 75% of affected citizens regard as an awful piece of
legislation that does little to help, and in some cases, actually hurts
retirees. The Democrats talk about the issues, to a limited degree, and
then fall short on offering specific solutions. Despite the hurdles there
are a number of opportunities to affect change in Washington, ways in which
each and everyone can be of help.,
Your help is needed.
In addition to monitoring the status of current
legislation, the NRLN has created “The Affordable Health Care Team” made up
of volunteers who are analyzing the broad spectrum of health care proposals
supported by various organizations around the country. From this effort, we
will develop proposed health care reform legislation representing a broad
consensus of opinion from interested parties and elected representatives.
We’re looking for volunteers to help with this ambitious project, so if
you’re interested in becoming one of our team members, please let us know.
With the election season upon us, our National
Legislative Committee is prepared to hit the ground running with members
from nearly every state trained and ready to address NRLN advocacy positions
to congressional candidates, incumbents and the news media. Eventually,
this grassroots advocacy network will evolve into subcommittees operating in
each of the 435 congressional districts. In order to make this vision a
reality, we need your involvement. So please let us know if you can
participate in this ongoing effort to make our voice heard where it will do
the most good. More details on this committee and its work will be covered
in future newsletters.
And speaking of elections, the NRLN has joined with
the Pension Rights Center in Washington, D.C., and other senior advocacy
groups in a coordinated campaign directed at 2004 presidential candidates.
This temporary alliance, which calls itself the “Ad Hoc Coalition to
Restore Retirement Security,” is mobilizing volunteers to attend local
events where presidential candidates are appearing. At these events, the
volunteers will carry signs, placards and banners calling on the candidates
to sign a “Presidential Pledge” that states: “I will support measures
that will ensure that pension and retiree health insurance promises will be
honored. I further pledge that I will support other measures that will
provide retirement security for present and future retirees.”
Naturally, your participation in this timely
initiative will be invaluable. Please contact us today and volunteer for
this special coalition.
The following excerpt is taken from the NRLN
Training Guide for state and regional members of our National Legislative
Committee. The author, Joe Ristuccia, is a veteran activist and advocate on
matters of retiree pension and benefit protection. He is a retired New York
Bell executive, a Board member of BellTel Retiree Association, and a
founding and current member of the NRLN Board of Directors.
the NRLN Training Guide for
State and Regional Legislative Chairs
Less than 15 years ago, retirees were becoming aware
that promises were not being kept by their former employers. Those who had
worked and earned benefits for 30, 40 or more years of service, began to see
the inclusion of a “reservation of rights” clause in their health plans.
Momentum began to build within corporations to adopt odious cost- cutting
schemes that could ultimately extricate them from their health care
commitments to their retirees. This was followed by incremental cutbacks
and cancellation of earned retiree benefits.
These cutbacks had nothing to do with corporations
experiencing a business downturn. In fact, the opposite was true. As the
‘90s saw unprecedented corporate profits, corporate leaders used retiree
benefits to inflate their bottom lines. Compliant corporate boards granted
oversized compensation packages. With the recent downturn in the economy,
attacks against retirees became more intense and comprehensive.
Most recently, we have seen big business assault the
pension funding process itself. Corporate heads have asked Congress to
allow a two year moratorium to withhold pension fund payments. Their
request came as stock market profits were ebbing and bottom lines were
suffering. Recent reports from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation
Fund are grim. Defaults are on the rise, and a two year hiatus would be in
opposition to retiree interests. Congress granted this accommodation with
little to no discussion. Critics were ignored and so were any
considerations given for weakened plans.
CONGRESS IS NOW FACED with deciding what
should be given first consideration: corporations’ bottom lines or
corporations’ fiduciary responsibility to their retirees’ pension funding.
It should be a clear case of doing the right thing. It is time to demand
serious legislative reforms on the Federal level.
The most egregious legislation to come from Capitol
Hill recently is the Medicare Prescription Drug Act passed in December
2003. Little information about the Bill was made available to the public.
When information leaked to the media, it was bad news for the retirees.
After months of arm twisting, the act passed, but not without great
difficulty. When the dust settled, the clear winners were the
pharmaceutical companies and corporate America. One month later, the
Congressional Budget Office readjusted the cost to $540 billion. The
original estimated cost when passed was $400 billion. By any
measurement, a sizable adjustment.
These examples show the downward slide retirees have
experienced since the late ‘80s. We must stop this slide before it gets any
worse. If allowed to continue, many retirees could face impoverishment.
Eventually, a sizable segment of the middle class will experience a downward
At stake are the Pension and Health Care Funds earned
by nearly 45 million retirees during their lifetime. Corporate leaders are
playing a new game these days. They will stop at nothing to succeed. These
leaders know the retirement funds represent great sums of money. It is
tempting and worth the risk to divert the earned benefits of retirees to the
company’s bottom lines. But, the corporations need the blessing of
politicians who are willing to remove regulatory barriers and to change the
WHAT MUST RETIREES DO to reserve what is
rightfully theirs? Retirees across the country who see the writing
on the wall are forming and joining retiree associations. The National
Retiree Legislative Network is gearing up to take our fight to the grass
roots level and make our issues a priority in the halls of Congress.
We need a groundswell by all retirees and citizens to
get the message out. The message must be delivered to Congress, the White
House, the news media, and our local communities. We must build a strong
grass roots organization to level the playing field. Congress listens to
the folks back home!
Retirees must unite to create a huge voting block
that will get the attention of legislators back home and on Capitol Hill.
No one likes to be betrayed, not by corporate
leaders, nor by politicians. We have events that anger retirees and cause
them economic hardships. This is a betrayal when corporations break their
promises and abandon their commitments. We have to react to this injustice
and the issue must be addressed and corrected.
It is clear that Washington, DC is a very tough
town. Corporations have assembled huge cadres of consultants and lobbyists
that have become the epicenter for doing business in our Capitol.
But, this can be changed. We have to make it unfashionable for politicians
to curry favor with big business – ignoring the concerns of the folks back
VOLUNTEER ADVOCATES are vitally needed to let
politicians know that retirees’ interests are a priority. Congressional
leaders must understand that retiree issues are too important to be placed
on a chopping block by uncaring, greedy, power hungry corporate leaders who
skirt the law for their own self interest. The need now is more critical
because of the barrage of federal laws and deregulations that have been
allowed to pass. This makes it imperative that retiree leaders emerge at
the grass roots organization and become involved in the broader political
area of getting the retiree message out.
Members of Congress listen very closely, especially
to those folks who have knowledge and firsthand experience in the area they
are advocating. By being on the front lines, you can explain the impact
that federal policy has on your life personally. This kind of information
is invaluable and persuasive to the members of Congress.
The real trick is to make a habit of your advocacy,
but remember, along with many, many retirees, you can make a difference and
change what now seems impossible.
Thank you for your participation and interest
in the retiree cause.
SOME 2004 NRLN Datelines
April 21, 2004 – The NRLN pledged its support of efforts to
make it legal for U.S. consumers to buy safe prescription drugs from Canada.
April 26, 2004 – The NRLN called on President Bush and
Congress to overturn the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rule
stripping older retirees of their health care benefits from former
May 1, 2004 – NRLN President Jim Norby wrote to members of
Congress urging them to repeal USC Sec 420 and 402(b) or allow the current
sunset date of Dec. 31, 2005 to occur as scheduled. “Retention of these
statutes would extend a corporation’s license to continue raiding the
pension trust surplus,” Norby wrote.
May 1, 2004 – NRLN President Jim Norby wrote to House Speaker
J. Dennis Hastert urging his support of the Financial Accounting Standards
Board (FASB) proposed rule to require publicly traded companies to list the
value of stock options as an expense on their financial statements.
May 14, 2004 – NRLN President Jim Norby wrote to President
Bush urging his support in the effort
to ease the rules on drug importation.
May 14, 2004 – NRLN President Jim Norby wrote to Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission Chairman Cari M. Dominguez urging the
commission to rescind the rule approved on April 22 that allows employers to
reduce or eliminate retiree health benefits that they offer to older,
June 17, 2004 – The NRLN launched its online Legislative
June 18, 2004 – The NRLN applauded passage of a resolution by
the Dutchess County, N.Y. Legislature on behalf of H.R. 1322. “Resolutions
such as the one passed in Dutchess County can have a ripple effect spreading
across the entire state and country,” announced NRLN president Jim Norby.
National Retiree Legislative Network, Inc.
We seek to secure federal legislation that will
guarantee the fair and equitable treatment of retirees in private and public
sectors, health and pension programs, and will improve the adequacy of
benefits provided by such programs. Also, we are committed to watch for and
stop legislation that threatens retiree health and pension programs.