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Retirees deserve better

A recurrent topic of discussion in Oak Ridge is the economy — and what should or could be done to improve local tax revenues.

There are plenty of ideas, of course, but it seems to me that the single most positive thing that could and should be done is to gain fairer treatment for the retirees of the contractors that operate the local Department of Energy (originally Atomic Energy Commission) facilities.

People who devoted their working lives to the local atomic energy facilities during the Cold War (and their surviving spouses) have been watching the purchasing power of their pensions dwindle away. Meanwhile, the pension fund that pays them enjoys a huge surplus (the balance is $800 million more than the actuaries say is needed to pay all current and future obligations to past and future retirees) and their former employers have not paid one cent into the pension fund since 1984, but Department of Energy officials have said publicly that it would be irresponsible to increase Oak Ridge retirees’ pensions to compensate for inflation.

Retirees aren’t asking for much — they only want their pensions increased to provide 75% of the buying power they retired with, and to make the “surviving spouse” pension arrangement for past retirees the same as it is for future retirees. As the retirees have been eloquently (and patiently) pointing out in various public forums (for example, in this Oak Ridger guest column that Joanne Gailar wrote last year), these changes would restore a modicum of fairness and would provide a windfall for individual retirees — and the communities where they live.

Our Oak Ridge contractor retirees must be treated better. Although it ought to be in DOE’s and the contractors’ best interest to do so (who would want to be recruited to work for an organization that treats its pensioners so poorly?), it appears that a political resolution is necessary.

I hope something happens soon — for our local retirees and for the local economy. The matter appears under “other issues” on the City’s State and Federal Legislative Agenda for 2007, but I think it might be the single most important federal issue for Oak Ridge right now. (What does the rest of the community think?)



  1. Ellen Smith says:

    Frank Munger reported the other day (at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/munger/2007/12/not_good_news_for_retirees.html) that Congressman Zach Wamp says that DOE secretary Samuel Bodman is strongly opposed to any change in the pension situation for Oak Ridge retirees. That’s hardly a surprise — DOE’s opposition has been evident for some time. Congress needs to take action to direct DOE to play fair with Oak Ridge retirees.

  2. […] on January 28th. There’s time for citizen input. Equity for local contractor retirees (see this earlier blog post) is one of my highest federal priorities for the city, but there are plenty of other potential wish […]

  3. Charles Stearns says:

    i am looking for a Leroy Smith from oak ridge. I attended Coyne Electrical school with him in 1959 in Chicago.Last I heard of him he was working for the post office in Chicago.He would be in his 70’s now. He was a musician also Thanks Charles

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    Good luck in your search for Leroy Smith from Oak Ridge. He’s no relation to me, but I’m leaving your query here. If it turns up in someone else’s web search, maybe it can help you find him.

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