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Helen Quirini

Helen Quirini

During her life, Helen Quirini was the quintessential activist. Sadly, Helen passed away on October 14, 2010.  From 1983 to 2010, Helen was dedicated to fighting for cost of living adjustments for GE retirees. As president of Local 301 of the IUE-CWA Retiree Councilshe led a rally every year from 1983 to 2010 in front of the GE plant in Schenectady. Along with Kevin Mahar of the Retiree Council for Local 201 of the IUE-CWA, Helen founded the GE Justice Fund, which coordinates the efforts of 15 GE retiree councils throughout the country to campaign for automatic cost of living adjustments for GE pensioners and to prevent cutbacks in their retiree health benefits.

Each of those years, Helen, Kevin and retirees from all over the country attended GE shareholders meetings. There they handed out copies of the Hall of Shame, a poster showing photographs of GE retirees, the number of years they worked, and the shockingly small amount of their pensions. At the 2006 meeting Helen and Kevin included a photograph of former CEO Jack Welch whose monthly pension is $800,000, while the average monthly pension of the other five retirees pictured is less than $800 -- after 38 years of service!

These efforts have paid off. Since 1987, GE retirees have received five significant pension increases. Most recently, General Electric retirees won a huge victory when the company agreed to ask its board of directors to increase pensions for those who retired from the company on or before June 1, 2003. In the proposal, which was negotiated on behalf of retirees by the Communications Workers of America and United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, those who have been retired longest would receive the largest increases.

While the proposal falls far short of the amounts sought by the unions and retirees, it represents a significant increase for thousands of pensioners. In Helen’s case, her pension increased by $130 per month. She noted that the pension fund is worth $55 billion and has a surplus of $15 billion and said that GE could easily afford to give retirees the full benefits and cost of living adjustments they need and deserve. Until they do, she said that “our fight goes on.”

Helen spoke at several GE shareholders meetings, and her efforts were featured in the Wall Street Journal, other newspapers, on TV, and even in a play written by a fellow GE shareholder, Gail George, called, Helen and Jack that has been seen by thousands of people.

At our 35th Anniversary Gala, we honored several of our most dedicated activists with an award named in Helen's honor.

For more information on Helen, read the tribute to her life in the Schenectady Daily Gazette and the Albany Times Union.  You can also read her shareholder's speech in 2008 [PDF].