Follow-up Letter to Congress
March 11, 2004

 To Members of the United States Congress

 In mid-February, I called your attention to New York Times and ABC News stories on the loss of health care and other benefits retirees are encountering from corporate America.  The press has continued to write about these abuses.  I want to share with you excerpts from four articles that appeared during the last week of February.    

A Chicago Tribune reporter wrote in a February 24 story that millions of Americans are bearing the increased cost of health care as corporations seek to control costs by ending, or curtailing, medical coverage for retirees.  “Experts warn that continued increases in health care costs and the looming retirement of Baby Boomers ensures that the problem will grow,” the article stated.

 Also, the article cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study finding that 71 percent of 408 corporations surveyed said they had required retired workers to pay a bigger share of health care insurance premiums in 2003. Nearly 10 percent of the companies said they had eliminated such benefits in the last year, and 20 percent said they would probably eliminate the benefit by 2007. 

The article closed with a quote from an AT&T retiree:  "We retired under the assumption that health care insurance would continue," he said. "I don't want to sound like a crank, but these companies should be forced to stand by what they said."

 The Chicago Tribune article was picked up by the Kansas City Star.  To read the entire story, go to: http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/nation/8031002.htm

 On February 26, Bloomberg News carried a story with the headline:Lucent's Russo Seeks to Cut $850 M ln Retiree Health-Care Cost.”  The article noted that (Lucent CEO) Russo is under pressure to cut the health care costs because trusts that had paid those bills are nearly exhausted.  What the story doesn’t say is that Lucent has never contributed a penny to the retirement pension and benefit trust funds since it was spun off by AT&T in 1996—even in its boom years of 1998, 1999 and 2000 when it had sales revenues of over $30 billion annually.

The reporter noted that Russo was paid about $4.49 million in salary bonuses and other compensation in its fiscal 2003 which ended Sept. 30, Lucent said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. That included about $1.25 million in payments that were deferred until 2005, Lucent said. Russo earned $3.27 million a year earlier according to the SEC filing. To read the entire Bloomberg News story as published in the Asbury Park (NJ) Press go to: http://www.app.com/app/story/0,21625,914717,00.html

On February 27, The Christian Science Monitor published an article with the headline: “Baby boomers face retirement squeeze.”  The story noted: “Evidence is mounting that the other two pillars [besides Medicare] of retirement security - private-sector pensions and personal savings - are no longer adequate to ensure that most Americans will have enough to live on when they retire.

“From United Airlines to General Motors Corp., large companies are struggling to meet their obligations to retirees. The federal plan that guarantees these pensions is $11.2 billion in the red.”

Later in the story the reporter wrote: “The defined retirement benefit, the pension that was once a standard perk in a big firm, is a rapidly disappearing option for many Americans. The number of Fortune 100 companies offering a fixed-benefit pension has dropped from 68 percent in 1998 to 50 percent in 2002, according to Watson Wyatt Worldwide. And federal data shows a steady fall in private-sector workers who have pensions: from 38 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 1998.”

To read the entire story on the Christian Science Monitor Web site, go to: http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0227/p01s01-usec.html

 On February 28, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote about the plight of retirees under the headline of “Retirees worried over pension uncertainties.”  According to the article:

 The pension crisis in America is enough to give retirees gray hair.
  
 While Congress struggles to complete a temporary fix, Walter Ehmer and Jim Gray sweat about getting all the retirement benefits they were promised.   ‘Companies are trying to get out of their responsibilities,’ said Ehmer, pointing to employer-supported legislation that would reduce pension funding.”
  
Ehmer, retired from Lucent Technologies, and Gray, a former Delta pilot, represent the human side of a debate that largely has focused on the big picture: a troubled pension system and financially strapped employers.
 

The entire story can be read at: http://www.ajc.com/business/content/business/0204/29pension.html

These stories and countless others appearing in print and broadcast outlets across the nation are evidence that Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the hardships retirees are facing with their health care and other benefits.  This attention by the news media is testament to the need to pass HR 1322 and include protections in the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to prevent employers from eliminating currently provided benefits.  The NRLN would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you how we might work together to address the needs of America’s retirees.

.Sincerely,

A.J. Norby

President

National Retiree Legislative Network