The following remarks were delivered to the Nevada AFL-CIO Convention in Las Vegas the week of August 16, 2010. Speaking was Rita Weisshaar, retired IBEW employee at NV Energy.
Brothers and Sisters, I am honor to be allowed to speak to you today. My name is Rita Weisshaar. I have been a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 for over 20 years and retired December 30, 2009 from what is now NV Energy. In northern Nevada it was formerly known as Sierra Pacific Power Company. I am not running for political office. I’m here today representing the retired workers from NV Energy, Sierra Pacific Power, and I. B. E. W. members.
Growing up I was taught to respect my elders. Not just because of their age but also because of what they sacrificed to contribute to us and society. I am sure those of you who remember back to their apprenticeships or when they were first hired, remember the journeymen and others who trained you. They may not have been easy on you. But you respected their knowledge and years of experience. They taught you not only the work but how to stay safe working in a dangerous environment so you could go home to your families when the work was done.
Now NV Energy has made decisions that show they no longer respect those that gave their working lives to build a once great company that ranked among the finest in the western United States. It was because of their hard work that NV Energy became the profitable utility it is today. Now NV Energy has decided that those who built the company are a liability, another expense to be cut to increase executive pay and profits. These are the brothers and sisters that were called out in the cold of night, the heat of summer, in blizzards and high winds to restore the electric and gas service to thousands of customers.
In October of 2009 NV Energy decided to no longer honor the negotiated health insurance benefits in its contracts. Contracts it has honored for years. NV Energy has decided to pass on 100% of future premium increases and change the health plans so more expense is put on the backs of the retirees. At the same time they voted to increase the executives’ pay. In 2009 CEO, Michael Yackira was given $4.5 million in compensation. All the while NV Energy has shut down all but one customer office and you are now paying the highest electric rate of all the mountain states.
These changes in the health benefits make up a monumental amount to retirees. Some have been retired for more than 25 years. Pensions are set at the time of retirement with no cost of living increases. I talked to several retirees who retired years ago and their pensions are less than $500 per month. These increases will eat up their entire pension check at a time when they have little no resources left. It may force them from their homes and cause them to make hard choices between medicines and medical care and eating. These are the members of our society who should be respected and thanked for their commitment and contributions instead of preyed upon by a greedy company like NV Energy with equally greedy executives.
This makes us mad as hell. United as union brothers and sisters we decided to fight back. Here are some of the highlights of what we have done.
- In November 2009 we had a rally to kick off our Shame on NV Energy campaign. Over 400 attended.
- In January, we contacted the religious leaders in both northern and southern Nevada. They were shocked that a company, as profitable as NV Energy would prey on those in our society at a time in their lives when they need our respect and kindness the most. We published a letter in the major newspapers from the interfaith religious leaders urging NV energy to reconsider their actions. We also held an interfaith rally where we all came together as one to voice our outrage at NV Energy’s decision.
- Then in February, I came down to Las Vegas on a bus with other retirees and we had a picket at the NV Energy headquarters over on Sahara. With the help of our union brothers and sisters from the electricians, iron workers, carpenters and especially the culinary workers, we were over 300 strong; we walked in the rain to demonstrate against the actions NV Energy was taking against the retirees and employees.
- Ron Borst, the president of our retiree’s club, sent a letter to Michael Yackira, CEO at NV Energy asking to meet with him and Tom Bird, the vice-president, and discuss the changes to the retiree health plan. You know what Michael Yackira did. He didn’t just refuse to meet with them. He sent the letter back and it was stamped “Returned to Sender.” And it made us even madder.
We put a copy of it in the newspapers. He obviously has no respect for us or the years we gave to the company.
- In March an association of benefit professionals Plan Benefits decided to give NV Energy an award for “excellence in benefits” We felt that the public should know how NV Energy really treats its retirees so we took our Shame on NV Energy campaign to New York City where the awards banquet was being held. We joined with over 200, I.B.E. W. members from Local 3, Unite Here, culinary workers and the Hotel workers to picket outside the dinner. They took up our cause as if it were their own. We showed New York City and the people there exactly what kind of company NV Energy is.
- And the campaign is continuing. We published an ad in July featuring Sylvester “Tex” Kelley, a decorated World War II veteran. He is a retired lineman and trained many of our apprentices. He passed on his knowledge and shared is working life with them. Now he doesn’t know how he is going to pay for his health care.
- On August 2, NV Energy had an earnings call with various investment analysts. They announced another profitable first quarter with a net profit of $39 million.
- Yesterday this ad was printed in the Las Vegas paper. We hope everyone saw it. It shows what kind of a company NV Energy is!
NV Energy’s actions are immoral and wrong! We are asking that you join with us in our campaign to fight against corporate greed and excessive executive pay. We ask that you do two things.
- Call Michael Yackira at the next break and tell him how wrong NV Energy’s actions are. His number is 775-834-4011.
- We are coming back to Las Vegas. Join us on Wednesday, September 22. We are going to take the fight for retirees to NV Energy headquarters and let them know Las Vegas is a union town.
As one brother from I.B. E. W. Local 3 in New York City told me, “If they get away with doing it to you they’ll do it to all of us.” We have to fight back now and we’ll keep fighting until NV Energy keeps their promises they agreed to in our contracts. We will not give up the fight until NV Energy restores what it took from us!