A Brief History of CORRE
by Charles Kuykendall and Mary Helen Rose
(With special thanks to Troy Trotter)
The first meeting of a few retirees concerned about protecting and improving retirement benefits of Oak Ridge retirees was held at the Red Lobster restaurant in Oak Ridge on September 20, 2000. Dale Bewley organized that first meeting, because he had become aware of a large surplus in the Pension Trust Fund and the intention of DOE’s contractor at Y-12 to invoke an “IRS-420 Transfer” of some of those funds to be used for non-retirement purposes. Attendees at the first meeting, in addition to Dale Bewley, were: Gus Legeay; Tom Moser and Ben Gaylor, PACE; Carl Scarbrough and Ed Mee, ATLC; John Sergent, UCC Retiree Club; Bob and Emily Clouse; Joe Dykstra; Ted Shapiro; Ed Sternberg; and Ed Krieg. Subsequent meetings were held at the ATLC building and the home of Troy Trotter through October 2000.
One product of those meetings was a letter to DOE-ORO Manager Leah Deaver, dated October 19, 2000, addressing the lack of pension adjustments and requesting review and support. The letter was signed by: John Sergent, President of the UCC Retiree Club; Virginia Donahoe, President of the LMES Retirees Association; Carl Scarbrough, President of ATLC; and Ricky Gallaher, President of PACE. The letter was followed by a rally of some 300 retirees and a press conference at the entrance to the Federal Office Building on October 26, 2000. Those signing the letter met with Ms. Deaver on October 30 to emphasize retiree issues and needs. These activities led directly to the formation of a formal organization, which had the objective of preserving and improving retirement benefits of retirees of DOE’s contractors in Oak Ridge. That organization was CORRE, the Coalition of Oak Ridge Retired Employees.
Organization and Approach
Bill Wilcox chaired a nominating committee with Joe Dykstra, Ed Kreig, Marigrace Kirstowsky, Gary Riser, John Sergent, and Troy Trotter. This committee set the organization in motion with its first report, issued on November 17, 2000. Charlie Kuykendall became the charter President, Jackie Holloway and Ed Kreig became Vice Presidents, Mary Helen Rose became Secretary, and Harry Carper became Treasurer. The first meeting of the Board occurred on November 28 with the following attendees: Ken Bernander, Dale Bewley, Harry Carper, Joe Dykstra, Jackie Holloway, Marigrace Kirstowsky, Ed Krieg, Charlie Kuykendall, Chuck Landguth, Mary Helen Rose, John Sergent, Troy Trotter, Bob Wesley, and Bill Wilcox. Bob Wesley was appointed chair of a Communications Committee.
During 2001, the organization selected the name CORRE, agreed on its purpose and mission, developed objectives, established committees for planning and legislative actions, set a no-dues policy by asking members to become “active” (“contributing”) with a one-time contribution of at least $20, confirmed that it represented all retirees of ORNL and Y-12 whether “active” (“contributing”) or not, issued the initial Position Paper, and held its initial Annual Meeting.
The organization evolved further in 2002. Formal Bylaws were developed and approved, an organizational charter was issued by the State of Tennessee, and 501(c)5 status was granted by the IRS. During 2003, the organization expanded its coverage to include retirees from other local DOE contractors, namely, Wackenhut and Bechtel Jacobs.
CORRE’s organizational approach, which is to maintain strong working relationships with DOE and its contractors, to propose actions that are reasonable and fair, and to operate with honesty and accuracy, was developed early. CORRE openly seeks the support of its membership and of the general public. CORRE works with our legislative representatives at all levels to build understanding and support for its programs.
Leadership of the organization changed in 2004 when David Reichle became President and Charlie Kuykendall moved to Past President. Reichle served through 2008. Dub Shults succeeded Reichle as President at the beginning of 2009. Mary Helen Rose has served as Secretary from the very beginning of operations. Many other retirees have served the organization and, hence, their fellow retirees, since it inception.
Notable Activities and Accomplishments
The threat of withdrawal of Trust Funds via an “IRS-420 Transfer” and use of such funds for purposes other than retirement benefits was a major issue leading to the creation of the organization. CORRE enlisted the help of federal legislators to oppose any such use of retirement trust funds. That threat was blocked and ultimately vetoed by DOE at the Headquarters level.
In April 2001, a pension adjustment was given to retirees who retired before April 1998. Individual increases ranged from 4.0 to 23.0%, depending upon retirement date. No such general adjustment has been granted to anyone who retired after March 1998.
In response to CORRE’s request, the so-called “Pop-up Benefit” was granted to all retirees who elect the Surviving Spouse Option. This benefit provides for restoration of a retiree’s pension to its full amount upon the death of his or her spouse.
CORRE developed and implemented an elaborate website in 2002. This website provided extensive information about the organization and its programs.
In January 2004, an adjustment was made in retirement benefits that set minimum pensions of $600 for retirees with at least 20 years of service and $400 for eligible surviving spouses. This adjustment was requested by CORRE and encouraged by Congressman Wamp. It impacted approximately 1,100 retirees.
CORRE vigorously opposed implementation of DOE Notice N351.1, which would have had a severe negative impact on defined-benefit retirement plans. Ultimately, plans to implement that Notice were withdrawn by DOE.
CORRE developed an elaborate DVD that presented in detail issues and background information related to the need for a general adjustment to pensions. This DVD was widely distributed to local and national representatives, DOE and its Oak Ridge contractors, and the local media.
CORRE developed protocols for computing the amount of pension increase that would accrue to individual retirees and provided them to DOE and the local managers of the retirement plan. This was in response to a perception that the amounts needed could not be calculated for lack of sufficient data. CORRE’s approach proved to be viable. CORRE also developed protocols for estimating the economic benefit of its proposals that would accrue to cities and counties in Tennessee, and to the state itself.
CORRE proposed to DOE and the local contractors that the Medicare Part D subsidy be shared with eligible retirees, as was done at other sites within the DOE complex. This subsidy is an incentive to employers to retain existing prescription drug coverage for retirees. The local contractors began to share their Part D subsidy with retirees in late 2008 and early 2009.
CORRE put great effort and care into the development of two major proposals, neither of which has been funded, but continue to be the key objectives of the organization:
Restoration of 75% of inflationary losses to the pensions of each retiree.
Setting the cost of the Surviving-Spouse Option at 2% for retirees, as is done for active employees.
CORRE developed and implemented a new website in 2010 in order to improve the ease of navigation for users and the ease of maintenance for the host.
The stock decline of 2008/2009 was a devastating blow to CORRE’s campaign for adjustments to retiree benefits. Trust funding levels, which had peaked at 116%, approached 80%. Our proposals, which were reasonable and affordable at trust levels above 100%, continued to be reasonable but were not affordable. Indeed, for the first time in 26 years, the contractors began to add money to the trusts to maintain acceptable funding levels.
Also in 2009, the management of the BWXT-ORNL pension plan (the MEPP) was separated, such that each organization assumed administrative responsibility for its own pension plan. This meant that CORRE began to represent retirees of four separate contractors—BWXT, UT-Battelle, Bechtel Jacobs, and Wackenhut. In 2010, the contractor for environmental cleanup programs was changed from Bechtel Jacobs to CRS/CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR). In 2012, the Wackenhut contract for security services at B&W Y-12 was cancelled, and responsibility for those services was assimilated into B&W Y-12. Also in 2012, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) elected to bid the B&W Y-12 contract as a joint venture with B&W Pantex. The winner of that contract is scheduled to be announced in late 2012.
In 2011 and 2012, both ORNL and Y-12 initiated significant changes in their benefits programs, primarily for active and future employees. A major change in health insurance coverage was implemented by ORNL; i.e., the program was converted from a single-company, group plan to a multiple-company, individual-choice plan. CORRE represented retirees during the development and implementation of the new program, and CORRE members were able to assist ORNL in locating many “missing” retirees or their representatives, thereby assuring that they did not lose their health insurance.