The letter from NV Energy was clear: retired employees were invited to the Rose Ballroom
in John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino on Oct. 15 to “discuss” changes in retiree medical
Several hundred employees showed up and
listened as Benefits Manager Bob Connolly
outlined the company’s plan to slash and burn
their benefits. When Connolly was finished,
retired Lineman Ron Borst rose to ask a question.
Connolly said he would meet Borst in back.
“No, I want to talk to you over the microphone so
everybody can hear,” Borst said. About the same
time, retired Troubleman Tom Bird walked to the
microphone to get the discussion going.
Maybe Connolly was afraid that the roomful of
septuagenarians was about to riot with their
canes and walkers. Or maybe he was just too
ashamed to look them in the eye. Whatever the
reason, Connolly raced back to the microphone,
took it away from Bird and shut it off. End of
discussion. No questions allowed. Meeting over.
“We had some pretty tough questions ready. But they didn’t give us time to ask them,” Bird
said in an interview after the meeting. “When they saw the union brothers standing up they
knew what they were up for.”
But Bird wasn’t done. Not yet. After surrendering the microphone, Bird turned to the crowd
that stretched out across the vast ballroom and announced there would be a rally on Nov. 7
at the Washoe County Senior Citizens Center on 1155 East 9th Street in Reno.
“I got the point across,” said Bird. “I think you could have heard a pin drop.” Afterwards,
many retirees remained in the ballroom, fuming over the “discussion” that never took place,
trying to make sense of the company’s wholesale retreat in the face of a question-wielding
The meeting was over. But the discussion is just beginning, whether NV Energy likes it or
The showdown at John Ascuaga’s Nugget adds new fuel to a campaign by IBEW members
and retirees to defend themselves against an unprecedented assault by NV Energy
management. In the bargaining now underway, management is attempting to gut medical
benefits for retirees and strip away union protections that were bargained over the past 60
years. To drive the point home, the company announced on Sept. 29 that it would cancel the labor
“If the company gets its way, all language pertaining to retiree benefits will be removed
from the union contract,” said Local 1245 Business Representative Randy Osborn. “Life
insurance, dental, vision, medical, wellness benefits—everything. The only thing that would
remain is the pension plan, which is protected by law.”
Employees have responded to the attack on benefits as
you might expect: they’re furious. On Sept. 30,
employees papered workplaces from Tahoe to Elko with
“Don’t Tread on Me” stickers that feature a snake
wrapped protectively around the IBEW logo. It’s a graphic
warning that union members will defend the gains they’ve
won through decades of collective bargaining.
“All the stuff that the guys fought and earned before us,
they’re trying to take it away,” said Troubleman Bruce
Warmuth, who chairs Unit 3320 in North Lake Tahoe. “We
owe it to those guys to fight and try to keep what we
Union members identify strongly with their company, formerly known as Sierra Pacific
Power, and expect top executives to support the company’s historical mission of providing
safe and reliable service. It is demoralizing when those executives treat employees as a cost
to be cut rather than an asset to be protected.
CEO Michael Yackira, who joined the company in 2003 and became Chief Executive Officer
in August 2007, told Nevada Business magazine in June that the three values he hopes to
pass on to his employees are “integrity, respect for others, and stewardship.”
But employees weren’t feeling the love at the meeting in the Rose Ballroom.
“It made us feel like you would expect—disrespected,” said Bird, who had 32 years of
service at the company and retired in 2006. The cuts the company is proposing, Bird said,
“could hurt some of these old timers to the point of collapse. This could hurt them
It’s not like retirees can just jump back in the workforce to earn money for their medical
“Their bodies are failing them, they’re busted up, they’re walking with canes,” said Bird.
“We did a lot more at this company than lean on a shovel.”
Bird, with a variety of physical problems stemming from his decades on the job, is living
proof of the sacrifice that many retirees have made for the company. But he doesn’t hold
himself up as anything special.
“I’m not unique. There’s a lot of people around here busted up if they’ve been in the trade
for any length of time,” he said. “What they’re doing to us is immoral.”
Bird and other retiree activists have been meeting in recent weeks to plan strategy for
defending retirees’ benefits. They’re forming a Reno/Sparks chapter of the IBEW Local 1245
Retirees Club. An organizing committee is already in place, with Borst as chairman, Bird as
vice chairman and Mickie Baryol as recorder. Their first informal gathering in late
September drew about three dozen people simply through word of mouth.
After the fiasco at the Nugget, they expect to grow. Indeed, a meeting of the Club at
Denny’s in Sparks on Oct. 22 drew several dozen retirees. And they’ve begun to reach out to the broader community. Political, religious and
community leaders have been invited to come show support at the Nov. 7 rally at the
Washoe County Senior Citizens Center.
“If the company’s set on cutting our medical benefits, fine, but they’re going to have to face
us and that’s when the fire storm’s coming,” said Borst.
“We made a deal with this company through collective bargaining,” said Bird, who noted
that the union had represented employees on the property since the mid-1940s. “We gave
our lives in exchange for pensions and benefits. And they’ve broken the promise.”
Meanwhile, bargaining remains at a virtual standstill as the company continues its “my way
or the highway” attitude. On Oct. 7, citing the company’s refusal to bargain over postemployment benefits, Local 1245 filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaints with the
National Labor Relations Board.
Call it an invitation to the company to have a “discussion.”