The sun was hot and spirits were hotter when about 125 union members marched en masse to the front doors of NV Energy in Las Vegas on Sept. 22 chanting “NV Energy, shame on you!”
For a moment it looked like they might invite themselves in for a personal chat with company executives, but they stopped a few feet shy of the castle gate and continued chanting while a delegation of IBEW Local 1245 retirees continued on inside to seek a meeting with CEO Michael Yackira.
Their message was plain enough: despite enjoying healthy profits, NV Energy has broken its promise to take care of the medical needs of its retirees. NV Energy retiree Rita Weisshaar spelled it out at a brief rally prior to the mass picket and march.
“They want to put on the backs of the retirees 100% of all future premium increases for their medical benefits,” Weisshaar said. “Shame on NV Energy!” several people in the crowd responded.
Joining the retirees at the rally and picket line were members of several Nevada unions, including a large contingent from Culinary Workers Local 226, whose muscular sound system blared “Who Let the Dogs Out” as the unionists grabbed picket signs and filled the sidewalk in front of NV Energy’s headquarters on West Sahara Ave.
Retired Troubleman Jim Hill, who had 42 years of service with the utility before retiring last year and toted one of the picket signs in Vegas, said the money going toward executive bonuses ought to be used to cover the company’s obligation to its retirees.
“They’ve sold off so many assets of this power company, it’s just so sad. This company is being stripped by (the CEO) and his followers. It’s just wrong,” Hill said.
Company security guards made no effort to block entry by a small delegation of retirees that included Weisshaar, Retiree Club President Ron Borst and Vice President Tom Bird, and retirees Vickie Borst and Bud Gray, along with Father Ray Decker, Rev. Neal Anderson and Culinary Local Union 226’s Ted Papa George.
But inside a man identifying himself as the security manager informed the retirees that, “You won’t be seeing anybody today.”
“This is a public utility,” said Vickie Borst. “We should have access to somebody in charge who could accept a document,” referring to the petitions the retirees wanted to give to Yackira.
The security manager, who identified himself as “Mike”, said he would be willing to accept the petitions. But he refused to say that he would deliver them personally to Yackira.
Retiree Club President Ron Borst pointed out that Yackira made $4.5 million last year and that “there’s no damn sense in him being part of cutting the retirees’ medical benefits—and not facing us.”
After leaving the petitions with the security manager, the delegation left the building—only to run into corporate Vice President Punam Mathur, who agreed to receive the petitions.
Weisshaar, both Borsts, Bird and Gray returned with her to the building, ascertained that the petitions had already been delivered to Yackira’s office, and then engaged in a lengthy conversation about appropriate ways to communicate. Mathur took exception to the use of the word “shame” and said it wasn’t conducive to creating dialogue.
Ron Borst seized the opportunity to have a bit of dialogue right on the spot.
“You froze our benefits so now we accept all the additional raises on our medical premiums—when NV Energy’s not broke. They’re making profits, good profits. You know it and I know it and that’s the way it is,” Borst said.
After some more back-and-forth, Mathur agreed to facilitate a future dialogue between the retirees and the company, although no specifics were discussed.
“She promised to open a dialog with us, that we would have communications. We’re looking forward to meeting with them,” said Weisshaar.
In negotiations that began in July 2009, NV Energy said it would not pay any increases in medical premiums for retirees, and company negotiators never budged from that position. Local 1245 members in August ratified a new agreement with the company, settling issues affecting current employees. But the agreement did not address the issue of retiree medical benefits, and the union has continued to campaign for their restoration.
Unions standing with IBEW Local 1245 retirees at NV Energy headquarters on Sept. 22 were Laborers Retirees Local 872, IBEW Locals 357 and 396, as well as Bartenders, Ironworkers, and Teamsters locals.
More photos from the picket and rally appear below.
Photos by Mike Grimm and Eric Wolfe.