It was not a good day for NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira.
About a hundred picketers patrolled the sidewalk outside the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Las Vegas on May 3, chanting “NV Energy, shame on you!”
Inside the meeting, where many attendees wore IBEW 1245 tee-shirts, it just got worse. Retirees presented a resolution urging the utility’s Board of Directors to amend company bylaws to allow holders of 15% of outstanding shares of common stock to call a special meeting of stockholders. The resolution was a clear call for more accountability by management, and the Board of Directors opposed it.
The resolution passed with 60% of the vote.
A second resolution presented by retirees, which took aim at executive compensation, gathered a respectable 25% of all shares voted—indicating a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with exorbitant CEO pay packages.
As the meeting drew to a close, Board Chairman Philip Satre asked if there were any questions. NV Energy Lineman and stockholder Samson Wilson had this one:
“Senator Ensign—who asked Mr. Yackira to hire his former senior aide Doug Hampton as a lobbyist for NV Energy in violation of federal criminal law—has resigned. Mr. Hampton has been indicted. Has the independent Board of Directors investigated Mr. Yackira’s conduct in this matter and concluded there are no concerns about his continuing service under these circumstances?”
It was a polite way of asking if the Board of Directors had noticed that Yackira has managed to taint the company’s reputation by allowing it to become associated with one of the sleaziest political scandals of the modern era.
Satre affirmed the directors had looked into the matter and had no concerns. The meeting was then quickly adjourned.
Retiree Benefits Down, Executive Compensation Up
NV Energy’s retirees have a bone to pick with their former employer. Under Yackira the company has slashed retiree medical benefits, even as company profits rose 25% last year to $227 million and Yackira’s own compensation has gone up 42% in just three years.
Before going inside to present one of the shareholder resolutions, Rita Weisshaar spoke to about 100 workers demonstrating outside.
“As retirees we put a lot of our hard-earned money—and faith—into NV Energy,” said Weisshaar, a retiree, shareholder, and vice president of the IBEW Local 1245 Reno-Sparks Retirees Club. Retirees, she said, had counted on the company to grow their investment in a responsible manner.
“We don’t feel like they are being a responsible company. We think that they have a severe case of corporate greed,” Weisshaar said. “We don’t like some of the things their leadership is doing so we came out (to present) shareholder resolutions to try to get things back on course.”
Rod Thomas, a journeyman substation electrician, said that retirees took action at the shareholders meeting because they feel like they have been “lost in the shuffle.”
“We wanted to make sure we have a voice in what happens with this corporation for the issues that directly affect us.” Proposing a resolution to give shareholders the power to call special meetings, he said, “helped us get back in the spotlight a little bit.”
Thomas said the cost of his medical insurance was $48 a month when he retired in 2008. “Now I pay $456 per month for my insurance,” he said. “It has almost tripled every year since I retired.”
Ron Borst, president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the Retirees Club, said retirees had become involved in the shareholder meeting to show NV Energy “that we’re really serious as retirees about what’s going on with our medical benefits being reduced.”
“It used to be a very very good place to work,” said Weisshaar, echoing the sentiments of many of the retirees present. “I was very proud to be part of them. I was very proud to put my money behind them in order to make the company grow. And now I’m ashamed. Shame on NV Energy for what they’ve been doing.”
About 20 retiree club members made the journey to Las Vegas for the shareholders meeting. Tom Bird, president of a Retiree Club chapter recently organized in Yerington, praised Vegas-area unions for joining the picket and rally outside the meeting, noting there were representatives from Culinary Workers Local 226, IBEW Local 396, IBEW Local 357, Sheet Metal Workers Local 88, the Sierra Club, and the Nevada Association of Retired Americans.
“We’re always moving forward on this and I think we’re going to take this to the bitter end,” said Bird. “It feels good to see the solidarity and the unions come together. We’re all in this fight together even though a lot of us may not think so, we’re in a fight for survival nationwide.”