A Brief History of the Fight for UC Retiree Medical Benefits

 

ŅThe forces of the status quo are mighty, and they have deep pockets, and they can wait you out.Ó Š Nancy Pelosi

 

In October 2007, I learned that responsibility for my medical coverage was being moved from UC to an LLC, LLNS. I objected on principle that a newly minted LLC with which I never had any relationship should be given control of my medical benefits. If you are unaware of the nature of an LLC, its defining characteristic is that it can dissolve at will and shed all of its liabilities, including my medical benefits. LLNS had no interest in me other than satisfying a DOE requirement so that they could successfully bid on the management contract. I had the expectation that sooner or later DOE would try to save money by reducing my medical benefits.

 

My reading of the UC-DOE management contract (W-48) was that it required UC to retain responsibility for pensioners and required DOE to pay UC for any unfunded liabilities resulting from the termination of the contract. The straightforward approach to correcting the problem appeared to be to take UC and DOE to court and cure the breach of W-48.  There is one court, in Washington DC, that congress set up to hear claims against government contracts. Congress also set the scope of cases that the court could hear. I spent considerable time researching the issues and preparing my case. Once I was ready, I started looking for a lawyer to help me. When I finally found one, I sent him the information on my case. His first step was to check precedents. On checking, he found that another individual had tried to sue DOE in the court. The court refused to hear his case because congress had not given it authority to hear third party claims against government contracts. That put me back to square 1.

 

After considerably more research, I decided to try to convince the RegentÕs legal staff that the transfer of my medical benefits to LLNS was a breach of my employment contract. Jeffery BlairÕs job description, given on the UC web site, fit the description of the right person to approach. I gave him a telephone call and told him I thought UC was in breach of my employment contract. He wouldnÕt discuss the issue but told me he would look into it and get back to me within 5 business days. Every time I called back he would tell me he needed a little more time. After a little more than a month, he said he had taken care of the problem and he would notify me of the results within 5 business days. A week later, I received an email from an LLNS lawyer who said she was responding for Jeffery Blair and that said everything was fine. I got absolutely no information or details of their actions, if any. And again I went back to square 1.

When I received my open enrollment packet last fall it was clear that LLNS was beginning to cut my medical benefits. I expected that some of the retired high-level managers, who were responsible for looking after my welfare before the management change, would step in and convince UC and DOE that they were doing the wrong thing. By the day before the open enrollment meeting I planned to attend, it was apparent my expectations would not be fulfilled; At that point I calmly and deliberately panicked. I put together a website with information on what was happening, bought a straw hat, printed a sign predicting doom to attach to the brim and printed cards with a short explanation of the problem and a link to the website. Prior to the meeting I put on my hat and sign and acted as official greeter, handing out cards to everyone who would take one. That was the start of the University of California Livermore Retirees Group (UCLRG).

 

One of the first things UCLRG did was to email requests to UC, DOE Representative Ellen Tausher for help. We got some sympathy but no help from Representative Tausher, no reply from DOE and a motherhood and apple pie response from Ms. Lapp on the behalf of the Regents and/or the President. I sent a reply back to Ms. Lapp pointing out that her response had no relation to our request and reiterated my problem in the simplest form I could manage. I received a response from John Cammidge, which still did not address the problem. After a couple of iterations with him, I managed to get him to grudgingly admit that we might be considered to be UC retirees but could not gain any ground on the idea that UC had promised us medical benefits. When he offered a face-to-face meeting, I jumped at the chance. After talking with him, it was clear that he was only acting in the position with no intent of making it permanent and that he had neither the background nor the inclination to address the issue. How many ways can you say back to square 1?

 

I started looking for legal help as soon as I decided to go public with an attempt to make UC carry out its promises to its retirees. John Holtzrichter and Dick Epps both volunteered to help me find legal help when I had no success on my own. Dick found a law firm willing to look into the issue but they did not seem to have the expertise we needed. Tom Sinclair was recommended to me and I contacted him about last Thanksgiving. Just before my meeting with John Cammidge, Tom called me and wanted to set up a meeting. Since John C and Tom were only a few blocks apart I set up a meeting with Tom after I was through with John C.  John H told me that he had found a lawyer and that Dov Grunschlag would join Tom and I at the meeting. We are in the processes of sorting out what to do on the legal front. In spite of working diligently to obtain legal representation,  I believe it would be in the best interests of all parties concerned if we could solve the issue without resorting to legal action.

 

UCLRG is preparing a series of petitions to UC, DOE and elected officials to see if we can use publicity as a means of obtaining help. This is an area where I have no experience or expertise so I have no idea of what the result will be. I am doing it because I want to be sure to explore all my options short of legal action.

 

Joe