NV Energy's planned cuts spark protest

Some 200 union workers rallied in rain Tuesday to protest planned reduced health care benefits for NV Energy retirees and cutbacks in the utility company's work force.

A busload of retirees came from Northern Nevada to join the picket, which lined the sidewalk in front of NV Energy's corporate headquarters at 6226 W. Sahara Ave.

The planned cut in retiree health benefits and closing of NV Energy offices in Las Vegas, Elko, Yerington and Carson City come at a time when the company reported $182.9 million net income for 2009 and has been approved for $130 million in federal bailout money, union organizers pointed out.

The health care package applies to retirees 55 and older, said Fred Ross of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents about 20,000 energy workers in Nevada and California. NV Energy notified the union that it intended to cancel its contract on Dec. 31.

NV Energy spokesman Rob Stillwell said the company is in the middle of contract negotiations with the union and cannot discuss details of its proposal.

"We are not eliminating any medical benefits. That's all I can say on the record," he said.

A letter sent to retirees said the company would place a cap on its contribution to the employees' retiree medical plans. The company has been paying 80 percent of retirees' medical plan premium.

NV Energy had a "personality change" from its years as Sierra Pacific, said Tom Bird, a retired 32-year employee of the power company from Northern Nevada.

"Suddenly the company has turned its back on the most vulnerable past employees, some of them in their 70s and 80s," Bird said. "At the end of the day, do you think (Chief Executive Officer Michael) Yackira and (Chief Financial Officer Kevin) Bethel will be suffering like these retirees I'm talking about? Not a chance."

Nevada AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson said workers gave up a lot of concessions in the last contract and NV Energy is coming back to the table asking for more.

"It would be different if this was a company in bankruptcy, but this is a company with record profits, and now they want to take away retiree health benefits, and that's just not right," Thompson said.