Young people are not the only ones who are joining unions. More and more federal retirees have decided to stay in the fight and keep their union membership into retirement. They know their union is the most effective tool to fight back politicians’ attacks on their retirement and health benefits. They also believe staying on and being involved are great ways to strengthen our union at the time when the President and some in Congress are trying to wipe us out of the federal government.
‘There are still a lot of years left in us’
For retirees like Glenn Dixon, it just makes sense to stay on as an AFGE member after he retired as a Bureau of Prisons correctional officer. He’s concerned about the attacks on retirement by the administration and Congress and their attempts to privatize Social Security, putting everyone’s retirements in the hands of Wall Street. But the administration’s anti-union executive orders were the latest thing that ignited Dixon’s passion.
“We retired young. At BOP, it’s mandatory that we retire at 57,” said Dixon, who is also AFGE District 12 retiree coordinator. “There are still a lot of years left in us as correctional officers to come back and work for their union.”
Access to union benefits
Another benefit of remaining a union member is access to all AFGE national and locals’ benefits, including health insurance and discounts offered through third-party vendors. This is a big selling point for retirees who don’t have health plans with the government or are looking for dental coverage or assistance with purchasing hearing aids.
As District 12 retiree coordinator, Dixon always emphasizes these benefits when talking to locals about the need to encourage retirees to maintain union membership and get involved.
Retirees have a lot of potential. Current federal employees who are members and/or union volunteers are always juggling several responsibilities and restricted in types of activities they can do on duty time under the Hatch Act, but retirees have no such restrictions. That’s why we launched the AFGE Retirees program a few years ago to tap into retirees’ experience and flexibility.
We will soon have a District Retiree Coordinator in every district and we are urging locals to appoint retiree coordinators. We are also encouraging federal employees who are about to retire to stay on as members and use their experience to help fight against attacks on our pay, retirement, and health benefits.
“We can’t afford to lose members when they retire,” said District 11 Retiree Coordinator Steve Kofahl. “We need their experience to help with representation, organizing, legislative action, coalition building, and as an un-Hatched political campaign force.”
Kofahl was instrumental in creating our union’s retiree program. He spoke on the convention floor to urge delegates to establish funding for the program. He suggested that we have District Retiree Coordinators, and he was one of the first named.
Kofahl had worked for the Social Security Administration (SSA) for 42 years before retiring in 2015. His experience as a steward, vice president, and local president is invaluable for our union. As District 11 retiree coordinator, he helps promote the retiree program, explain the value of retiree activists, and serves as a resource and liaison with the national retiree program. He has also been active in legislative and political advocacy. He was recently named chair of SSA Council 220’s Retiree Committee.
Kofahl is active in the Alliance for Retired Americans and has served (currently serves) as a regional board member.
An incentive to stay
As District 12 retiree coordinator, Dixon often attends trainings and metros to network and promote the retiree program.
“We’re trying to come up with a system where we can coordinate these retirees with their locals and have them come back in and provide services for that local as a steward, as a representative, to be on committees as they’re not giving them official time,” he explained.
Dixon believes the most effective way to encourage retirees to stay on is for locals to ask them to stay before they retire. Some members stop by their union offices before they retire, which presents an opportunity to talk with them about retiree membership. It is even better if district and local retiree coordinators can reach out to them six months or even a year before they retire, so they know the benefits and how to sign up.
Even though retirees’ membership dues are small – only about $25-$60 a year depending on locals – some locals offer to cover their dues for a year as an incentive. In locals that don’t do this yet, the local members themselves can vote and approve it so that they retain membership for one year after they leave as a reward.
Dixon has floated the ideas to several locals and got commitment from his western region Council of Prison Locals (CPL) to keep those retirees on for one year free of charge to the member. One of the CPL locals – Local 1680, his home local – retains its members for three years.
Retirees make us stronger
Retirees make our union stronger by taking part in legislative advocacy, political mobilization, mentoring, representation, organizing and helping at local events and in locals’ offices,
“Retirees get from their membership the continued fellowship of their union, and they have access to all the insurance benefits and discounts they enjoy as active members,” said AFGE Retiree Program Director Julie Tippens.
If you are about to retire or have retired, join AFGE Retirees today and start making a difference!