United States

2 minute read
Peter Gumbel

When C. William Jones took early retirement in 1990 after a 30-year career with a New York phone company, he expected his loyalty to be rewarded. But the firm he left is very different from the one he joined. Once owned by AT&T, New York Telephone Co. became NYNEX and then, in 2000, Verizon Communications. And at a time of ferocious competition in the industry, some of the benefits he says he was promised when he joined in 1959 have either not materialized or, most recently, been slashed. Retirees have to foot an ever larger part of the bill for their health care, and Jones calculates that pensions now have just 21% of the buying power they had in 1971.

Rather than passively accepting his fate, Jones, 67, is fighting back. A decade ago, when he and some fellow retirees realized that their pensions didn’t include promised cost-of-living increases, they started the Association of BellTel Retirees, one of hundreds of groups of disaffected former employees that have sprung up in the U.S. to lobby for retirement benefits. As president of the BellTel group, Jones uses the Internet and e-mail to send daily newsletters and legislative alerts to the group’s 110,000 members. He’s also proven himself to be skilled at corporate politics, successfully orchestrating a shareholder proxy vote that limited compensation and “golden parachutes” for Verizon’s top executives. “Verizon has deep pockets and can afford lobbyists in Washington to push their agenda,” Jones says. “The Internet is the only tool we’ve got to get our message out.”

Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe says the company hasn’t reneged on any promisesand that the board is paying attention to Jones. “He’s phrased a few things that we’ve looked at and then put in place, either in part or wholly,” Rabe says. That’s cold comfort to Jones, who today is a disillusioned man. When he started his career, he says, “you would never have even questioned their motives or thought that they would not always take care of you. That trust is now gone.”

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