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Janice Winston

Janice Winston

Janice Winston never set out to become an activist, but in 1996 when Verizon (formerly Bell Atlantic) shifted from its traditional defined benefit pension plan to a cash balance plan her life was changed forever. Janice had always trusted that her long-time employer of 23 years would give her the pension that it had promised her and was surprised when she started hearing that the company’s new cash balance plan was bad for employees.  Wanting answers, Janice did some research and eventually found that the plan would leave her with a benefit of about $215,000 less than the traditional defined benefit plan if she were to take her benefit in the form of a lump sum.

After reading a Wall Street Journal article about a congressional hearing on cash balance plans, she took a train from her home in Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. There she met Karen Friedman, policy director of the Pension Rights Center, fellow Verizon employee Rosel Patton, and Janet Krueger, an IBM employee who was also hurt by her company’s conversion to a cash balance plan.  After they compared stories, Janice realized she would have to fight for the pension that her company had promised her. Scared for her job, but determined to undo this change, Janice helped lead a grassroots campaign to encourage the company to reverse its decision.

Capitalizing on chance encounters with her company’s CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, Janice used these opportunities to let him know how Verizon employees, especially older ones, were getting hurt by the cash balance conversion. To further her cause, Janice flew to Denver, Colorado to attend an annual meeting of Verizon shareholders where she spoke about the negative impact the cash balance conversion was having on the morale and well-being of the company’s employees.  

In an effort to spread the word about the way cash balance plans disproportionately hurt older employees, Janice, Rosel and similarly-affected coworkers, Chris Dowel and Joanne Jacobsen, joined the Coalition for Retirement Security to learn the strategies that led to their eventual success. Later, Janice, Rosel, Chris, and Joanne started the Bell Atlantic Coalition for Retirement Security where they launched a website, circulated a petition, and started an e-mail and letter-writing campaign to urge Verizon to switch back to its traditional defined benefit plan.

In 2000, the efforts of Janice and others paid off when Verizon announced that it would allow thousands of older workers to receive their pension benefits based on the defined benefit plan. Janice has continued her activism against additional benefit reductions and in 2002 helped employees win an enhanced defined benefit formula.
 
Even after these victories, Janice continued her work as a pension advocate.  Janice testified at hearings held by the Department of the Treasury, moderated a Senate briefing on cash balance plans and, in the 2004 presidential campaign became the spokesperson for the Ad Hoc Coalition for Retirement Security, an umbrella organization for grassroots activist groups intent on getting presidential candidates to pledge to protect promised pensions and healthcare insurance benefits. More recently, Janice lobbied Congress for protections for employees who are affected by future cash balance plans. These protections were included in the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

The media has taken notice of Janice’s efforts and she has been featured in various publications including articles in Fortune magazine (Bye-Bye Pension), the AARP Bulletin, USA Today, the New York Times (The Electronic Rank and File), and Plan Sponsor. She has also been interviewed by Comcast and the BBC. 

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