Note: The following story by Hubble Smith was published on-line by the Las Vegas Review-Journal on February 9, 2010.
Some 400 union workers rallied in a light rain Tuesday to protest reduced health care benefits for NV Energy retirees and cutbacks in the utility company’s work force.
A busload of retirees came from Northern Nevada to join the picket, which lined the sidewalk in front of NV Energy’s corporate headquarters at 6226 W. Sahara Ave.
The cut in retiree health benefits and closing of NV Energy offices in Las Vegas, Elko, Yerington and Carson City comes at a time when the company reported $182.9 million net income for 2009 and received $130 million in federal bailout money, union organizers pointed out.
The health care package applies to retirees 55 years or older, said Fred Ross of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents about 20,000 energy workers in Nevada and California. NV Energy notified the union that it intended to cancel its contract on Dec. 31 .
Calls to reach NV Energy officials for comments were not returned by mid-afternoon.
NV Energy had a “personality change” from its years as Sierra Pacific, said Tom Bird, a retired 32-year employee of the power company from Northern Nevada.
“Suddenly the company has turned its back on the most vulnerable past employees, some of them in their 70s and 80s,” Bird said. “At the end of the day, do you think (Chief Executive Officer Michael) Yackira and (Chief Financial Officer Kevin) Bethel will be suffering like these retirees I’m talking about? Not a chance.”
Bird, a former electrical lineman and troubleman, said he worked for bosses who “came up through the ranks and knew what it was like to put in a hard day’s work.”
Nevada AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson said workers gave up a lot of concessions in the last contract and NV Energy is coming back to the table asking for more.
“It would be different if this was a company in bankruptcy, but this is a company with record profits and now they want to take away retiree health benefits, and that’s just not right,” Thompson said.
“This is a union town and this state needs to know that an injury to one is an injury to all of us. It affects all of us. If they take health care away from retirees now, then they will take it away for future retirees,” he said.
The company has announced layoffs and is outsourcing accounting and billing services. By the end of last year, NV Energy had closed most of its customer service offices in Northern Nevada.
A reduction in work force threatens service reliability, said Tom Cornell, a member of Local 1245 bargaining committee. Pulling line crews will increase down time during power outages and jeopardize public safety, he said.
“We agreed to a certain benefit when we retired from NV Energy. They reneged on that,” recent retiree Ron Borst said. “When you run your hand in the working man’s pocket for corporate American greed, there’s nothing fair about it.”