Despite recent victories in Congress, such as legislation that protects multi-employer pensions, American retirees’ hard-won benefits remain politically precarious. That’s why the AFL-CIO’s Alliance for Retired Americans is on the watch.
More than 188,000 retired IBEW members participate in the 4.4 million-member Alliance, whose mission is to keep retired union workers connected, politically active and informed about a host of issues related to retirement security.
“The IBEW contributes to these efforts by directly sharing with our members news about the Alliance’s work and the benefits of membership,” said Tarn Goelling, the IBEW’s director of community engagement, adding that the IBEW has a seat on the Alliance’s board.
Founded in 2001, the Alliance has continuously alerted its members about movement in Congress concerning retiree and labor issues. These well-informed retiree activists can then tap into the collective power of the Alliance to educate the public and lobby policymakers about their concerns.
One such member is Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 retiree Tom Bird, who serves as president of the Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans, one of 39 state chapters.
Bird began his IBEW career as an apprentice lineman. After topping out, he bid to Reno as a lineman, then worked around Nevada in distribution and transmission before retiring as an inspector.
“When I went from distribution to transmission, my life changed. I fell in love with it,” Bird said. “What I learned on that job, I took along with me on this job” with the Alliance, he said.
After 33 years of IBEW membership, Bird retired in 2006 but still pays dues out of gratitude to Local 1245. He quickly became involved in the Alliance, even founding four chapters.
“When I became president of the Nevada Alliance, I knew there was a lot more to do,” he said. He and his wife, Sue, spend several weeks a year in Las Vegas attending the various state Alliance affiliate meetings held there. “I learn who the leaders are and their unions’ culture,” Bird said. “It pays to know the members and learn their issues.”
Members have been called upon to lobby Congress for such things as changing the basis for Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustments to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, which the Alliance believes more accurately reflects the cost of items retirees buy than the current calculation formula.
The Alliance also works on strengthening Medicare, allowing retirees and their spouses to maintain their medical benefits throughout retirement. “We’re focusing now on keeping some of the good healthcare and Medicare policies included in the  Inflation Reduction Act,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance.
“We also worked hard advocating for the Butch Lewis Act,” Fiesta said, referring to legislation long backed by the IBEW and other unions to allow the Treasury Department to shore up troubled multi-employer pension plans. The act was included as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan.
Passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, Act remains a priority for the Alliance, Fiesta said. The measure, reintroduced in Congress in February, would strengthen workers’ organizing and bargaining rights and toughen penalties against law-breaking employers.
“The Alliance is just a great way for our members to stay in touch with the larger labor community after they retire,” Goelling said. “Our challenge is how we can get more members to sign up, to see more participation from our retirees.”
Goelling said that professional and industrial locals in particular — those in the broadcasting, government, manufacturing, railroad, telecom and utility branches — can help by regularly sending their lists of retired members to her office. “We would love to see as much Alliance participation as possible,” she said.
The IBEW is a participating Alliance union, so membership is free for its retirees. Retirees from nonparticipating unions and from the public at large, plus friends and family members, pay a modest annual fee of $10. Membership includes access to the AFL-CIO’s Union Plus program.
To learn more, visit: retiredamericans.org.