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December 2016

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Fact Check: Busting an Old IBEW Pension Myth

Pension and Reciprocity Department Director Bruce Burton heard of a misleading rumor making the rounds this summer that brought back memories. But this time he was in a position to do something about it.

The tall tale dealt with the return IBEW members receive on their pension contributions, with a member of one local union spreading the claim that the average IBEW retiree received only 18 monthly benefit checks before dying.

"I'd been hearing people say stuff like this since I was an apprentice electrician in Detroit back in the '80s," said Burton, whose department is responsible for the Pension Benefit Fund, more popularly known as the International Office pension. "It was clearly ridiculous. Everyone knows IBEW retirees are living long lives, including my own father."

Burton's dad, 89, has been retired from Detroit Local 58 for more than 24 years. "He's in excellent health, still mows his own lawn, and has been happily collecting IBEW pension checks for two and a half decades," Burton said. "It's anecdotal, of course, but I thought we should take a look and see if we could determine the real number anyway."

So Burton reached out to actuaries at the National Electrical Benefit Fund, a supplementary pension for 'A' members run jointly by the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association, reasoning that they would have the most accurate data for IBEW retirees.

"It turns out we were right," Burton said. "Not only was 18 a completely made-up number, it was so far from the truth that we thought it was only right that we share the data with all of our members."

In reality, the average life expectancy for NEBF participants — and likely for IBEW members in general — is 82.3 years.

Since roughly 53 percent of IBEW members choose early retirement at 62, that means the average retiree receives benefits for more than 20 years before passing away.

"That's 244 pension checks on average, not 18," Burton said. "It's disappointing to see that this kind of rumor still has legs after all these years, but I hope we can put it to rest once and for all. The truth is, an IBEW pension is still one of the best investments a person can make in their retirement security, and it's good to see the numbers to back it up."

The PBF, which Burton runs, is the modern version of the original death benefit that Henry Miller and the IBEW's founders established in 1891. In 2015, it made pension payments of more than $127 million and paid $18.6 million in death benefits.

The NEBF, which managed more than $12.6 billion in pension funds at the close of 2015, remains one of the healthiest defined benefit pensions in the labor community, investing in a diverse portfolio that includes real-estate projects that put active IBEW members to work all over America.

"We're proud of the systems this union has set up to take care of our brothers and sisters in retirement," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "Making sure our members are able to retire with dignity and security is one of the most important jobs we have, and the PBF and the NEBF are key parts of that."


International Secretary-Treasurer Salvatore "Sam" Chilia gives a presentation on the health of the Pension Benefit Fund during the IBEW's 39th International Convention in September. The PBF, he reported, is in much improved health today than it was following the Great Recession of 2008.

Vermont Member Wins 'Rising Star' Award

Montpelier, Vt., Local 300 member Danielle Bombardier has a new title to add to her growing collection: outstanding young leader.

On Sept. 26, Bombardier was named one of Vermont Business Magazine's "Rising Stars," an annual award given to 40 people under the age of 40 for their contributions to the Green Mountain State's community and economy, says the website. And she is the first person from her local to receive the honor.

"I was definitely surprised," Bombardier said. "I feel like a regular worker, not like someone who should win an award."

Tim LaBombard, Local 300 membership development director and the one who nominated her, would argue otherwise.

A former two-time volunteer with AmeriCorps, a national service program, Bombardier has cooked food for the Ronald McDonald House, participated in trash pick-up for Green Up Day and volunteers with Vermont Works for Women, an organization dedicated to promoting women and girls professionally. She also participates with other Local 300 members in an annual dragon boat race for breast cancer survivors.

Now a second-year instructor, Bombardier was named the 2016 apprentice of the year. And she was running the solar division at her job with Sherwin Electric as an apprentice — something that does not usually happen, LaBombard said.

"She deserves it," LaBombard said. "Danielle's very bright and she's always working to promote the local."

An inside wireman with a bachelor's degree in molecular genetics, Bombardier also serves as her unit's recording secretary and sits on the wellness committee.

The 40 winners were chosen from 140 entries by a panel of judges. This year's class comes from areas including academia, finance, construction and entrepreneurship.

Bombardier says she's happy for the recognition, and not just for herself.

"This is good for the union and I want the union to succeed," she said. "It shows our community involvement — and that there's a place for women in the trades."

"Women are a demographic that we need to focus on," LaBombard said. "Hopefully this award will show more women and girls that there are great opportunities for them in places they may not have thought of before."


Montpelier, Vt., Local 300 member Danielle Bombardier was recognized by Vermont Business Magazine for her contributions to the state's economy and community.

Annual RENEW Event Honors the Fallen

Young members at Omaha, Neb., Local 22 saw an opportunity to help grieving families last summer and seized on it, starting an annual tradition they hope will continue to help others in their region.

In 2015, leaders of the RENEW/NextGen chapter at Local 22 approached Business Manager Barry Mayfield after the sudden death of David Perez, a beloved member of the local's leadership who suffered a fatal heart attack.

"When David died, it hit us all really hard," said fourth-year apprentice Adam Oleson. "He was the first journeyman I worked with and our local's sergeant-at-arms, so we pushed to do something to honor him and help out his family."

That effort became Local 22's Fallen Brothers Benefit, an annual gathering with food, games and silent and live auctions — all geared toward helping the families of active members who passed away the previous year.

Wes Lucas, a fourth-year apprentice, said the event gives members an opportunity to get together, but also to remember. "It's a really great time, but knowing that it's going to make a difference in the lives of those families is what it's all about."

The 2015 event raised more than $14,000, which was split evenly after expenses among the families of the active members who died.

"It meant so much to those people," said Mayfield, who noted that many of the families never knew what the IBEW was all about. "These were our brothers and sisters, and I'm proud of all of our young members for taking the time to do this for their families."

In July, the core group of 10 young members who run the RENEW chapter put on the second annual Fallen Brothers Benefit, and it was just as successful as the first.

"We were able to get donations from some of our vendors and contractors," Oleson said, and Local 464 of the Steamfitters and Plumbers donated the use of a massive grill on a trailer for the event. Oleson cooked hamburgers, hot dogs and pulled pork, and hundreds of members turned out.

The group also raffled off a new smoker and a family getaway to a nearby waterpark, helping to raise roughly $1,500 to $2,000 per family.

"For us to be able to do this for the families of the brothers we lost is our way of letting them know their loved ones will be remembered," Oleson said. "I hope it means a lot to them. We're a strong brotherhood, and they've got people who care about them here."

Lucas and the rest of the team hope to eventually expand the benefit so that funds are available in the immediate aftermath of an active member's death rather than having to wait until the annual fundraiser. "It's something we'd like to do in the future," he said. "We're really just getting started."


Members of Omaha, Neb., Local 22's RENEW/NextGen chapter raised more than $12,000 for the families of deceased IBEW brothers and sisters.