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July 2023

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Alliance for Retired Americans Helps
IBEW Retirees Voice Their Power

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 mainly 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 [2022] 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.

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Working nationally and through state chapters, the Alliance for Retired Americans holds officials accountable.


Members of the AFL-CIO's Alliance for Retired Americans demonstrate on issues important to all seniors.

IBEW Member Norcross Introduces
Workers' Memorial Day Bill in House

Rep. Donald Norcross, the only IBEW member serving in Congress, is calling on his colleagues to honor workers killed or injured on the job with a national holiday.

Norcross introduced legislation April 28 for a National Workers' Memorial Day. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has observed such a day since it was formed more than 50 years ago, and the AFL-CIO has done so since 1989.

Elevating it to a formal holiday would require an act of Congress, however. Norcross, a Democrat who represents New Jersey's 1st Congressional District, says the time for that is now.

"As an electrician, I have had the unfortunate experience of being on a job where hard-working Americans have lost their lives," said Norcross, a former business representative for Folsom, N.J., Local 351. "That's why I introduced the Workers' Memorial Day Act, to remember our brothers and sisters who lost their lives on the job and bring more attention to stronger working conditions for workers across the country."

There were 5,191 American workers killed on the job in 2021, the last full year for which numbers are available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up 8% from 4,764 in 2020.

The largest portion of those deaths involved highway or road maintenance workers. The second largest was falls, trips and slips on the job, an area of concern for electricians and construction workers.

The holiday would be April 28, the date OSHA opened in 1971.

"We have made great strides in making workplaces safer, but dangerous working conditions kill and injure thousands of workers every year," Norcross said. "Our work is far from over, and as a co-chair of the Labor Caucus and a lifelong IBEW member, I will continue to fight for safer workplaces and stronger health and safety standards and enforcement in Congress."

The bill attracted 11 House co-sponsors, all Democrats. They include Illinois' Nikki Budzinski, who hosted Decatur, Ill., Local 146 member Andrea Kelly at the State of the Union address earlier this year, and California's Katie Porter, a high-profile union supporter who is running for Senate in 2024.


Rep. Donald Norcross, the only IBEW member in Congress, is sponsoring a bill that would make National Workers' Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Rutgers University-Camden