TVA retirees stay in touch, provide advocacy

BY JOE RUTHERFORD

Daily Journal

The Tennessee Valley Authority has employed several hundred thousand people in the span of its 75 years, and many of the seven-state public utility’s retirees stick together in the TVA Retirees Association.

The Mississippi Chapter is one of more than 20 in the association, and its activities are coordinated out of Tupelo.

Mississippi Chapter President Joe Boehms, who had a 32-year career with TVA, said the organization works for retirees’ interests and in coordination with a spin-off organization, called Bicentennial Volunteers, that provides temporary employee services, especially related to the Federal Emergency Management Association.

Boehms, who also worked for the Natchez Trace Electric Power Association for more than seven years, said the TVARA is active in pension and benefits issues.

“I have not had any direct experience working on those issues, but my term as president of the chapter has just started. I think we are supposed to have a program on pension and benefit issues in September at our chapter meeting,” Boehms said.

The association does not affiliate with a particular charity or volunteer organization, but its meetings and communications become a touch-point of mutual encouragement for voluntarism.

Bob Smith, whose career with TVA was in the power development and management divisions, said the Mississippi chapter has about 80 to 100 members, with 30 to 35 people attending quarterly meetings.

“It helps us stay in contact with one another,” Smith, a Tupelo resident said.

Smith said many other TVA retirees live in Mississippi but do not pay dues to the organization.

Smith said he began work with an electrical co-op in Kentucky, but later joined TVA. He is an Alabamian who earned his degree in agricultural engineering from Mississippi State University.

“Mississippi State has sent a lot of engineers to work for TVA,” Smith commented.

The association maintains an active advocacy voice for retirees involving pensions and benefits. The association has more than 11,000 members valleywide – a number large enough to network efficiently with regular newsletters, e-mails and other communications, and wield effective clout when it’s needed.

Boehms said a majority of TVA’s retirees live in Tennessee, which is where most of the employment base has jobs in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and in the string of power facilities across the Volunteer State.

Retirees interviewed said TVARA is particularly active in monitoring the TVA Retirement System, with $7 billion in assets held in trust for all participants. TVARA works with TVA and others on design and operation of retiree medical and drug insurance programs.

A separate organization, the Bicentennial Volunteers, grew out of the retirees association when the United States was celebrating its bicentennial in the mid-1970s. The Bicentennial Volunteers involves itself in a variety of service programs. It is a chief sponsor of a commemorative film, in production and scheduled for release later in 2008, about TVA and its accomplishments.

In addition, Bicentennial Volunteers Inc., as a nonprofit organization, provides experienced retirees to support TVA projects and programs. Its two affiliates, Retiree Resources Corporation and National Emergency Assistance, hire out for paid temporary contract work for TVA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Those affiliates were particularly active in response to Hurricane Katrina.