Ways to Take Action
Over time, grassroots activists have been remarkably successful in convincing their companies and Congress to “do the right thing.” By asking their companies to add an annual cost-of-living adjustment to retiree pensions or reverse a decision to freeze a pension plan, these activists have shown that they are committed, energetic, and persistent – and their causes are just.
Grassroots activists have developed creative strategies for communicating their concerns both directly to their companies and Congress and indirectly through the media and the public. Read below to learn about some of the strategies they have used.
Letters to the editor: Writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine can be a highly-effective way of getting your voice heard on important issues, especially if the newspaper is in the district of a Member of Congress.
Contacting Congress: Direct communications with elected officials can have a powerful impact. There are several methods you can use to get your voice heard by those representing you in Congress. You can send e-mails, faxes and letters, arrange meetings, and make calls to voice your concerns. The same strategies are also appropriate for contacting elected state, county and city officials.
Attend town hall meetings. Asking questions at town hall meetings is another great way to get your voice heard on important pension issues. Legislators often hold town hall meetings to find out what their constituents think. Learn more about how you can take action at town hall meetings.
Web sites and chat rooms: A very effective way of getting messages to policymakers and the public is to start a web site highlighting your concerns. The Pension Preservation Network, started by retired United Airlines pilot Jim Hosking, was launched as a way of organizing activists. Many groups also start chat rooms where they can anonymously discuss issues and strategies.
Auction: To help retired NFL players who lack adequate pensions, the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund is holding an ongoing auction to raise funds for retired players in need of financial assistance. The auction has featured items such as Coach Mike Ditka's 1975 NFC Championship ring and plays drawn by Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi. To date, the auction has raised over $125,000 in funds for retired NFL players.
Blogs and Videos: Using a variety of online strategies, including blogs and mass e-mails, to attract attention to their problem, the “Miller women” were able to negotiate a contract that increases their monthly pensions and reduces retirement age from 60 to 57. The Miller women used a web site to stage an online protest of the company’s actions. Watch the video they made to highlight their problems.
Calendar girls: A group of United Airlines flight attendants posed semi-nude for a calendar entitled “Stewardesses Stripped (of their Pension?). Each picture also contained a “zinger” related to their pension plan’s collapse. The calendar has been highlighted on the Today Show, Inside Edition, Washington Post, CNN, FOX, NBC, and ABC.
Blimp: When IBM decided to convert from a traditional pension plan to a cash balance plan, older, long-time employees realized that they would lose as much as half of their expected pensions. They set up a web site and a chat room, testified before Congress and at a Treasury Department hearing, and conducted press briefings. They also flew a blimp over a Colorado football stadium with a banner reading “IBM stole my pension. Is yours safe?” IBM reversed its decision for most of the affected employees.
Join a retiree organization. Because they represent a large group of members who have similar concerns, retiree organizations been able to leverage the power of their membership to encourage companies to make significant changes to improve retiree pensions. Read a list of some retiree organizations.
Shareholder resolutions: One way of expressing concerns about unfair pension practices is to bring them to the attention of a company’s shareholders through proxy resolutions. Although proxy proposals must be carefully crafted to comply with the rules, they can have a significant impact on corporate policies. Shareholder resolutions have gained in prominence in recent years, as shareholders recognize their power.
Looking for help with your retirement plan?
If you have a problem with your retirement plan, free help may be available from the U.S. Administration on Aging's network of Pension Counseling and Information Projects. Find help now.
PensionHelp America connects people who need help with their pension, 401(k), and other retirement plans with the pension counseling projects, legal services providers, and government agencies that can help answer their questions. Visit www.pensionhelp.org.
Retirement USA is a national initiative that is working for a new retirement system that, along with Social Security, will provide universal, secure, and adequate income for future retirees. Visit the website.