Lab Retirees Petition Court, Demand UC Benefits

By The Independent


     The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Retirees Group has filed a formal petition in Superior Court, seeking to force the University of California to restore the retiree population to the UC health system.

     The petition asks the Court “to mandate that the Regents of the University of California provide retiree medical coverage to all UC retirees who retired from LLNL while UC was managing the laboratory,” according to Joe Requa, head of the Retirees Group.

     It also asks for damages, meaning reimbursement for excess costs and interest incurred by retirees because they were moved out of UC health programs.

     The University of California declined to comment because it had not seen the court papers yet.

Plaintiffs listed in the petition are Requa, Jay Davis, Donna Ventura and Wendell Moen.  If the court action is successful, all Lab retirees who retired in the UC system – not just the plaintiffs — would benefit, Requa said.

     The action is the outgrowth of months of effort by Requa and others, from informal meetings with University managers to briefing UC Regents and seeking congressional help.

     Requa has made it clear that he and his group did not want to go to court if they could avoid it.  “I didn’t want to be in this position.  I spent seven years at the University (as a student.)  I’m very much in favor of the University. I support the University in general.  In this case (removing LLNL retirees from UC health care), I think they’re wrong.”

     “So far we haven’t gotten through to the University. This will force them to actually listen to us.  Even when the UC President Yudof told General Counsel Robinson to talk to us, he flat out didn’t. This is a way to get their attention.”

     Lawrence Livermore Lab employees and retirees obtained UC group health coverage under a succession of contracts that lasted more than 50 years but ended in 2008, when a new contractor took over Laboratory management from University of California.  At the time, the new contract promised continued benefits that were “substantially equivalent” to UC’s group plans. However, the contract wording was changed a year later under circumstances that have never been explained to retirees.

     Plaintiff Jay Davis, a former associate director at the Lab, said that major concerns for him are that the small pool of Livermore retirees has been “isolated from the larger…pool” of UC retirees and the “expectation of trust” has disappeared after contract language was altered.

     Beyond the normal growth of heath care costs that everyone experiences, the costs for Lab retirees will “inevitably rise” because of their detachment.  “Experience to date has been higher costs and far more burdensome processes to access healthcare and attain reimbursement,” he said.

     He and other retirees see complex reimbursement procedures as a big issue, especially as people age.  “Those of us recently retired have the skills and resources to cope with this, though it is frustrating and unpleasant.  We are concerned for those older — and for ourselves as we age,” he added.

     Whatever the outcome of the court action, a complicating issue for retirees is the future of UC health plans.  While they are simpler and less expensive today than the ones instituted by the new contractor, and offered by a much larger organization with more bargaining power to keep costs down, the University is under tremendous pressure to cut expenses because of its own budget problems.  

     For the past year, a Post-Employment Benefits Task Force has been considering ways to reduce UC’s retiree health care costs.  It will make recommendations to the UC president in the coming weeks. It will then make a recommendation to the Regents.

     While the details of the recommendations have not yet been announced, they are expected to involve a schedule for phased-in reductions in UC contributions to retiree health care premiums.  UC now contributes about 89 per cent of those costs.

     The University has made it clear that Livermore retirees will not be affected by such changes since they are no longer part of UC health care system.  Whether that remains true in the long run will depend on the outcome of court actions that are just now getting started.