Chump Changed

The pay was low, but working for Ma Bell meant a worry-free retirement. Now Qwest is sending out the pension checks, and local retirees say they're getting the wrong number.

U S West spent more than $7 million lobbying Congress in 1997 and 1998. During those two years, the communications and electronics industries spent more--$400 million--trying to influence policy than every other industry except for the financial sector. And according to federal campaign finance data, U S West was the eighth-biggest spender in its industry. During the same time period, the industry gave almost $55 million to congressional candidates, of which U S West ponied up a tidy $1 million.

The association, by contrast, doesn't have a war chest. But Norby says what it can do is place a retiree lobbyist in each congressional district. "So far there's been nothing but legal fees and heartbreak," he concedes. "But we have reloaded and decided that our last foray is through legislation. This is a literal misuse of a pension fund, and we can't win in the courts."

Norby knows how hard it is to convince official Washington to make sweeping changes in policy. But the retirees are prepared to try, he insists. "We are tired of companies that can literally hide behind ERISA," he goes on. "We have, however, been told that we'd better have very deep pockets."

Craig Lassig


Research assistance for this article was provided by City Pages interns Natasha Uspensky and Ben Ganje.

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