IBEW 1245 retiree leaders from Nevada and California held their second annual joint meeting on July 24 in Reno to strategize on ways to amplify the voice of retired union members. Their immediate goal is to grow the IBEW 1245 Retirees Club as well as the two statewide organizations representing all retired union members: the Nevada and California Alliances for Retired Americans (NARA and CARA).
Tom Bird, who has been instrumental in organizing Nevada’s IBEW retirees, said the meeting focused on recruiting, retaining, messaging, and making contact with retirees.
“When people retire and they change their phone number, their e-mail, we can’t find them,” said T-Bird, as he is universally known. There are currently 600 IBEW retirees in northern Nevada—a large number of them from Local 1245—and another 600 in the southern part of the state, he said.
The joint meeting in Reno was led by IBEW 1245 retirees from California: Ken Rawles and Bill Wallace. Both of these retired brothers are outspoken in the movement to mobilize retired union members. Rawles publishes a bi-monthly newsletter for the IBEW Ninth District, which encompasses 39 IBEW locals. Wallace is a frequent contributor to IBEW 1245’s website and newspaper.
Rawles, who helped organize the Santa Rosa Chapter, sees two major reasons for retired local union members in California to get involved in the IBEW 1245 Retirees Club. The first is to stay current on what’s going on in the local union and provide support where possible. A second major reason is “to support each other.”
“There’s going to come a time when somebody needs some help around their place, and we’re going to do that,” said Rawles. “Retirees don’t work so we have the time to provide that kind of support to each other.”
Rawles thinks it’s important for retirees to attend the unit meetings for current employees—or, as Rawles likes to call them, “future retirees.” It’s one way to let these members know they can have influence even after they’ve retired.
Ron Borst, a leader in the Reno-Sparks Chapter of the Retiree Club, says he can think of three areas where that influence is needed: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. All three programs are a source of support for senior citizens, and all three are vulnerable to the budget axe if seniors don’t help defend them.
Retirees in Reno-Sparks have demonstrated that it’s also possible to have a direct impact on the well-being of seniors locally. The Reno-Sparks Chapter has used the IBEW 1245 Community Fund to direct money to charities that are geared toward senior, Borst noted, including Meals on Wheels and the Evelyn Mount food bank.
At the Chapter’s last meeting, with the weather heating up, Borst challenged Chapter members to round up fans that could be donated to seniors who need them.
“There are many people who never had the opportunity to work under a good union contract, but they may have supported us in daily life, as cooks, as mechanics, or whatever,” Borst said. Helping distribute fans to those who need them isn’t just an act of charity—it’s a way of saying “thank you” to seniors for their service as workers, whatever that service might have been.
“We came up with 21 fans in three days,” Borst said.
Rita Weisshaar, another activist in the Reno-Sparks Chapter, said the IBEW 1245 campaign in 2010-2011 to prevent cuts in retiree medical benefits at NV Energy shows that retirees can have an effect when they stand together. She noted that IBEW 1245 retirees helped swell the crowd during a protest against threatened cuts in Social Security benefits.
Social Security and Medicare “have protected seniors from poverty,” Weisshaar said. Seniors, in turn, must protect these programs to make sure they survive.
Although the IBEW retirees plan to use social media in their recruitment drive, they hope the result is to get people to attend face-to-face meetings.
“Human contact is what these meetings provide,” said Borst. “It’s more personal.”
“It’s camaraderie, staying current on things you don’t get on Facebook,” said T-Bird. “The only way to engage in that is to show up for the meeting.”
T-Bird thanked the IBEW 1245 Executive Board and office staff for helping make the second annual CARA-NARA summit possible.