Retirement benefits are a central concern for IBEW members in general negotiations with NV Energy that begin this month in Reno, Nev.
Opening proposals for bargaining were due to be exchanged July 13-14. The union came to the table ready to exchange, but the company said it was unprepared, so the parties only exchanged “cover letters”. The proposals will be exchanged on July 27, when the company says it can be ready. No new proposals will be accepted after that date unless there is mutual consent to do so. The cover letters are posted on the union’s website at
www.ibew1245.com. Opening proposals will be posted after they have been exchanged.
It is widely expected that changes to retirement benefits will be proposed by the company. Randy Bradshaw, a Plant Operator 4 at the Tracy Power Plant located a half hour east of Reno, expressed “grave concerns” that the existing “defined benefit” retirement plan could be at risk, noting that NV Energy had switched to a “cash balance” retirement plan at its Nevada Power subsidiary in the southern part of the state.
“It has the potential of having an adverse effect on your retirement amount. Some people down south lost over 50% (of what they could have had under a defined benefit plan),” said Bradshaw, 58. “People my age would just as soon not change.” Bradshaw’s concern is widely shared.
“A new plan may not be as good,” said Lynn O’rayeh, a Customer Service Representative in the Billing Department in Reno. “Some members could lose up to 65% of their retirement” if the new plan mirrors what was recently imposed on NV Energy management.
Clerical members are also closely watching what happens to wages, O’rayeh said. During the last general negotiations, Clerical employees received lump-sum bonuses instead of general wage increases, in essence freezing their wages for
the past four years.
“Our cost of living goes up but our raises have stopped,” said Anna Van Dyne, a Clerical foreman over the print shop, mail and records. “That’s not fair. We have the same bills (to pay) as everyone else.”
The Clerical bargaining unit, in addition to Clerical positions, includes Meter Reader, Facility Maintenance, Mail Room, and Print Shop employees.
Kevin Schumann is concerned about retirement even though he’s only 31. “It still concerns me. How bad is it going to be by the time I get there?” said Schumann, a plant operator at Tracy. “What are they going to take away?”
Bill Franklin, an I/C Tech at Tracy, is concerned that the company is bringing a different attitude to the bargaining table than it used to. “It used to be that people would go for it, give a little, take a little, bang—you’d be done.” These days, he said, there’s a different breed at the table. “They’re all bean counters.”
Members are also concerned about a possible repeat of the last round of bargaining, which dragged on for well over a year.
“It’s not as efficient as it used to be,” said Rodger Bergue, a Telecom System Foreman in Reno. “It’s hard for bargaining unit to understand why the company is being so adversarial when the company is making so much money.”
Keith Light, a Telecom System Tech who works with Bergue, noted that unnecessary delay at the bargaining table doesn’t just waste time, it wastes ratepayer money. He’s also concerned about how knowledgeable management can be in bargaining when there is so much turnover in management’s top ranks. “They’re just coming in an out,” he said.
It’s a sentiment you hear a lot these days from employees at NV Energy and other utilities as well: management is so focused on
short term financial objectives they lose track of the utility’s larger purpose: providing safe and reliable service. It’s a purpose that remains uppermost in the minds of those who are “in the trenches” providing that service day in and day out.
“The employees are the ones with the long-term perspective,” said Jeff Hanson, a Plant Operator at Tracy. “We take care of the equipment because we want the equipment to last—we’re going to be here even if the managers have moved on.”
Van Dyne, the Clerical foreman, believes low pay for Clerical contributes to the company’s
“You can’t keep good staff—as soon as they get settled they’re looking at the job board,” she said. “You could get people to stay if they were paid a little better.”
Retention problems, she noted, effects the company’s efficiency. “Training takes time. I fall behind because I have to continually train. We have a good team, but they’re in and then they’re out.”
Clerical and Physical members alike stressed the importance of supporting the bargaining committee in the negotiations now underway.
“I know it’s not easy,” said Hanson, the Plant Operator at Tracy. Hanson said that fellow operator Gary Bailey, who serves on the committee, keeps them posted on developments.
“I don’t think the negotiating committee gets the credit they deserve. There’s lots of research. I don’t know if people realize how hard that work is,” said Bradshaw, the Tracy Plant Operator. “It’s tedious, not losing your temper, trying to get your view across to an adversary—it’s difficult.”
“It’s important for people to know the committee is there to represent all of us and have our best interests foremost in their minds,” said Rita Weisshaar, a Customer Service Representative in Billing who served on the bargaining committee during previous negotiations. “They’re not there bargaining for themselves, they’re there bargaining for everyone.”
“We should all get together and go to the (unit) meetings,” said Bruce Dahlgren, a Distribution Operator in Reno. “We need to have a lot more people go to meetings and voice their opinions.”