The following speech by Rita Weisshaar was given at the state convention of the Nevada Association of Retired Americans, held Aug. 21-23 in Reno, NV. Weisshaar is vice president of the Reno-Sparks Chapter of the IBEW Local 1245 Retiree Club.
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Honored guests and fellow retired American’s. Thank you for allowing me to speak today. My name is Rita Weisshaar. I have been a member of IBEW Local 1245 for over 20 years and I am one of the many who have retired from Sierra Pacific Power Company and now NV Energy. We are retired utility workers; we are the office staff, facilities, mechanics, the gas and electric servicemen, the electric linemen and trouble men.
We kept your lights on and gas flowing for 20, 25 or 30 years of our working lives. We were outside at gas and electric emergencies in blizzards when the temperature was below zero and when it was well over 100 in the summer. We answered the phone in the middle of the night to let you know we were there for you and help was on the way. We know that times do get tough. We provided the foundation on which the company was built. It was our hard work that made NV Energy the profitable company it is today. We helped build a profitable utility company. So profitable that it made $182 million dollars in 2009, $227 million dollars in 2010 and $39 million in the first quarter of 2011.
I was always taught to respect my elders. To respect them for their experience, knowledge and wisdom that comes with years of life and hard work. 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 best in the western United States. Now this company, NV Energy, is saying we retirees are a liability. We are causing “retiree drag” on their finances. And we are expendable. We are used up and are to be kicked to the side. In October of 2009 NV Energy decided to disregard the contracts that were collectively bargained since 1946 with Sierra Pacific Power Company and NV Energy. These were contracts that they had honored for years.
In the 1990s we agreed to wage and benefit freezes when the company was in trouble and helped bring it back from the edge of bankruptcy. We also, gave concessions in wages and other benefits to secure our health benefits and financial security in our retirement years.
Now NV Energy has decided not to honor those contracts. It has decided in order to reduce expenses it will pass on 100% of all increases in health benefit premiums to the retirees.
At this same time they are making profits in the millions and giving a pay raise to CEO Michael Yackira. In 2009 Michael Yackira’s salary was $4.5 million. He was given a raise to $5.2 million in 2010. Retirees’ pensions are fixed at the time of retirement and we never get an increase.
This change represents a monumental amount for some retirees. For one retirees it meant going from a premium of $48 per month to $456 in just two years.
This is catastrophic for us retirees. Some of our retirees retired 25 or more years ago. They retired at a time when wages were much lower than they are today. As a result their Social Security is lower and their savings are dwindling. I’ve talked to some retirees whose pension check is less than $500 per month. One of our retirees, who worked in the office, pension is only $354 per month.
These are the members of our society that should be respected and thanked for their contributions instead of being preyed upon by a greedy corporation like NV Energy.
These increases will eat up their entire pension check at a time where they have little resources left. It may force them from their homes and cause them to make hard choices between medicines, medical care and eating. Several have already had to drop their insurance coverage because they could not afford the increased cost. These are the members of our society that should be respected and thanked for their contributions instead of being preyed upon by a greedy corporation like NV Energy.
We feel betrayed by a company who seems to only care for the bottom line and not the people who work long hard hours in dangerous conditions to build a first class utility.
And they aren’t just doing it to us. They are doing it to you, the customer too! I used to work in customer service and I can remember how proud I was to work for a company who received awards from J. D. Powers for rating 1st in customer service. Now NV Energy is at the bottom of the ratings. They closed all but one office. If you’d like to talk to someone face to face about your utility bill you’re in for a long drive from here. The only office open to customers in the state is in Southern Nevada. Besides closing the offices they also removed the crews from most of rural Nevada. What this means is the people who live in Yerington, Smith Valley, Austin, and Gabbs will have to wait hours for a line crew to be sent out from Reno to replace transformers to get their power on again. That’s power they need for their homes, businesses, farms and livestock.
Not only that but NV Energy has had the audacity to ask for and was granted rate increases for profits it lost through our conservation efforts. That’s right, customers are now paying for the energy they didn’t use because they conserved and followed NV Energy’s conservation tips. And this at a time when so many residents of Nevada are suffering with double digit unemployment, the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, more hungry children than anywhere else in the nation and more businesses closing every day. It shows you what the executives at NV Energy, like Michael Yackira, really think about Nevada and how much they care about us, its residents.
Mad As Hell
This all makes us mad as hell. United as brothers and sisters we decided to fight back. We are the retirees and we have a couple of things on our side. We have time and experience.
We not only said shame on NV Energy we started a campaign to make NV Energy do the right thing and honor the contracts they agreed to.
- In November 2009 we launched our Shame on NV Energy campaign with a big rally. Over 200 union brothers and sisters both active and retired joined together to show NV Energy what we thought of their decision.
- 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 when they need our respect and kindness the most. We published a letter in the major newspapers signed by over 20 religious & community leaders in our area urging NV Energy to reconsider their actions. This year over 30 leaders joined us again.
- Then in February 2010, 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, communication workers, laborers 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.
- In March 2010 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 its people there exactly what kind of company NV Energy is.
- In September last year we took petitions with hundreds of signatures from the concerned residents of Nevada to NV Energy headquarters to give to CEO, Michael Yackira. Urging him to restore customer service and the retirees’ benefits. Again over 100 of our union brothers and sisters showed up to help us bring our message home. We marched right up to their front doors and a delegation took the petitions in to be delivered to Mr. Yackira.
And we are seeing some results. In May of this year two of our club members were successful in getting a shareholder resolution passed at the annual stockholders meeting. For some of the retirees the money they invested in the company makes up a large part of their retirement security. Jesse Hoch and Rod Thomas wanted to make sure the executives at NV Energy were accountable so they submitted a resolution that was approved for voting on this year’s NV Energy proxy statement. The resolution was to allow the shareholders to call a special meeting if 15% of the shareholders requested it. Their resolution passed with 60% of over 1 million shares voting in favor of it. This is huge. Rarely does a shareholder proposal pass on the first proxy ballot and not usually with such a large percentage.
We ran radio, TV and internet ads to call the public’s attention to the kind of greedy corporation NV Energy has become. We published 8 additional newspaper ads one featuring Sylvester “Tex” Kelley, a decorated World War II veteran. Others showcasing NV Energy’s lack of service while raking in millions in profits and shows they have one of the worst customer service ratings in the western utilities. One highlighting NV Energy’s part in the scandal that brought down Senator’s John Ensign. On August 11 we ran this ad in the Reno Gazette Journal inviting Phil Satre, Chairman of the Board to our Retiree’s club breakfast meeting to discuss their decision. Guess what, he didn’t show up and I guess he was afraid to talk to us because he sent a letter from his attorney declining our invitation.
Now the retirees have filed a class action law suit in Federal court to force NV Energy to honor their contracts.
But for some of us their decision will come too late. It came too late for one of our most outspoken supporters, Sylvester Kelley. He left us in June this year. Kelley was a line working foreman for many years at both Tahoe and in the Carson area. He gladly made a video for the campaign that was seen by thousands of people, telling how he was wounded in World War II and his hand was mangled by a shell. In order to work at Sierra Pacific Power he needed to wear a safety glove and his hand wouldn’t fit in it due to his injury. He had his finger amputated so he could get the job. He worked for Sierra Pacific for 40 years and finally left to a well deserved retirement. Then NV Energy betrayed him and the other retirees by not keeping their promises.
NV Energy’s actions are immoral and wrong! We are asking that you join with us in our campaign.
Join us on Facebook! Our Shame on NV Energy Facebook page now has over 47,000 fans. We are the largest advocacy group in Nevada, with more fans than Senator Reid and NV Energy.
We are asking you to Stand Up with us to fight against corporate greed and excessive executive pay. 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 made in our contracts. We will not give up the fight until NV Energy restores what it took from us!