IBEW members know how to mobilize, and that doesn’t stop when they retire. They are a formidable force who know the issues that affect working families. They also vote, in large numbers. That’s why they were in Washington, D.C., July 7-10 to attend a national conference of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Coinciding with the 50th birthday of Medicare and Social Security’s 80th, the conference included workshops on organizing retirees to defend and extend past gains, sessions on scams that rob them of their savings and a lobby day on Capitol Hill to win support for progressive legislation that supports retirees and working families. Presidential primary candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed delegates.

Established in 2001, ARA, which is financially supported by the AFL-CIO, is a nationwide grassroots movement advocating a progressive political and social agenda that respects workers and strengthens families.

Retirees from across the country attend the Alliance for Retired Americans conference in Washington, D.C. Carolyn J. Williams, left, William E. Carpenter, Thomas Bird, Richard Hutchinson, Mack Goodman, Rita Weisshar, Elson Garrett, International Representative Dan Gardner and Jerry Booth.

Most retiree associations, says IBEW Civic and Community Engagement Department Director Carolyn Williams, focus on organizing dinners and other social events that help renew ties between former co-workers and their spouses. “That’s an important part of staying engaged and active during one’s later years. But just as important is doing what we can to protect the gains our union fought for and the future of our children and grandchildren. Affiliating with the ARA is a natural way to promote this activism.”

William Carpenter, a retired Columbus, Ohio, Local 683 journeyman inside wireman, traveled to Washington to attend the conference. Local 683 retirees, says Carpenter, have been politically engaged for decades. The local was once affiliated with the National Council of Senior Citizens, ARA’s predecessor, formed in the 1960s during the John F. Kennedy administration to push for a national health care insurance plan.

“My local has a strong and vibrant history of being politically active, keeping members informed of what they need to do to stay active and viable in these changing times,” Carpenter says. “All of us are much stronger than one of us. It is important to stay engaged and active so that our voice is heard to uphold and expand all workers’ rights.”

Other IBEW members whose retiree associations have affiliated with ARA joined Carpenter and more than 400 other retirees, in 35 state chapters at the gathering.

Tom Bird, a retired NV energy journeyman lineman and member of Northern California-based Local 1245, is president of the Nevada alliance. “T Bird” earned his organizing chops as a die-hard activist in the 2009 struggle of retirees at NV Energy to protect their pensions and health care insurance from cuts. He went on to help form the Reno retiree club of Local 1245.

Mack Goodman, a retired Denver Local 68 journeyman inside wireman and ARA regional board member, joined other IBEW delegates at a breakfast during the conference. Mayor of Thornton, Colo., he says he is confident that activism by ARA members and others will not only protect Social Security from cuts and privatization, but will succeed in expanding the program, as proposed in eight different bills in Congress.

“Things have to change in America,” Goodman says. “With low wages and a high cost of living, more and more citizens don’t have much chance of making it unless we organize.”

One of the benefits of attending ARA conferences is the brainstorming that takes place about how to reach out and involve IBEW retirees, says Williams.

Elson Garrett, a retired inside journeyman wireman member of Huntington, W.Va., Local 317, says the local’s retiree association invites speakers to address club meetings with information about legislation and policies affecting retirees.

But Garrett says, opportunities for union retirees to communicate with others are endless and can happen anywhere other retirees congregate, including at meetings of the American Legion and VFW and at churches and community centers.

IBEW experience is well represented on the ARA’s staff, too. New England Senior Field Organizer Jennifer Kenny is a retired inside journeyman wireman member of Orlando, Fla., Local 606.

Local union retiree associations interested in the ARA may contact Director Carolyn Williams at Carolyn_Williams@ibew.org or 202-728-6204.