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FRESNO UNIFIED RETIREES ASSOCIATION
Notice from the Department of Managed Health Care
The California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) is responsible for regulating health care service plans and specialized plans such as vision service plans. If you have a grievance against your vision service plan, you should first telephone your vision service plan at 800.877.7195 and use your vision service plan’s grievance process before contacting the department. Utilizing this grievance procedure does not prohibit any potential legal rights or remedies that may be available to you. If you need help with a grievance involving an emergency, a grievance that has not been satisfactorily resolved by your vision service plan or a grievance that has remained unresolved for more than thirty (30) days, you may call the department for assistance. You may also be eligible for an Independent Medical Review (IMR). If you are eligible for an IMR, the IMR process will provide an impartial review of medical decisions made by a vision service plan related to the medical necessity of a proposed service or treatment, coverage decisions for treatments that are experimental or investigational in nature, and payment disputes for emergency or urgent medical services. The department also has a toll-free telephone number (1-888-466-2219) and a TDD line (1877-688-9891) for the hearing and speech impaired. The department’s Internet Web site http://www.Healthhelp.ca.qov has complaint forms, IMR application forms and instructions online.
P.O. Box 1717
Clovis, CA 93613
The 2015 Newsletter can be viewed by downloading the following pdf: FURA Newsletter April 2015
FURA is Fresno Unified Retirees Association
Chairman’s Message for 2015 Annual Meeting, 3930 E. Saginaw Way, 10:01 am- 12:01 pm
FURA’S ANNUAL MEETING Solutions: We Bring them To You!
Delta Healthcare, Envision Rx Plus, FUSD’s
+Your Homework: Got a problem or compliment? Bring it!!! Expect a freebie!
1. Delta Health Care – Francine Hanley + Q&A
2. Envision Rx Plus – Q&A
3. Joanna Smith, our FURA Healthcare Advisor LCSW, CHA, &. UC Berkley Extension
Joanna’s topics include: BIG ISSUES FOR US ALL
+Medicare & FURA members,
+ ACA (“Obamacare”) & FURA members,
+Advance Healthcare Directives + FURA buys a Free Copy for the first 200 attendees.
+Two PROBLEM cases, HOW THEY GOT FIXED, AND BENEFIT US ALL.
4. S.A.F.E.- Senior Awareness fall & education, CSUF.••Stand up if you’ve fallen down. (I will stand twice. Barbara will stand twice. Have you been hurt in a fall???? We were hurt and had surgery.)
5. Your Board activities for 2014-2015 & business. Letter to FUSD, court case documents…•
Wednesday MAY 20, 2015–Retired Teacher’s Bldg. 3930 E. Saginaw Way
Letter Sent to FUSD et. al
FURA FRIENDLY REMINDER FOR FUSD, SEIG, CSEA, & BUILDING TRADES
There have been several leadership changes in FUSD. FURA, SEIU, CSEA. AND THE TRADES UNIONS. Hence, the FURA BOARD thinks a refresher/ reminder of Judge Franson’s judgment would be appropriate for all involved.
All retirees prior to September 1,2006, are members of the FURA Class in the Judgment. FURA ‘s members’ prepaid. vested health care is governed by this judgment and the contracts involved.
FURA endeavors to educate and protect its members’ health care and its implementation. We convened our annual membership meeting andinvited all the FUSD providers to address and do Q & A with the membership. Unfortunately, the providers did not participate in this meeting;however, FURA was assured that FUSD and its health care providers would hold meetings for all retirees in the next three to four months.
Naturally, as we age, divining the meaning of contracts and their procedures becomes more difficult for some of us;therefore we ask for a designated person to help the folks. Similarly, we hope that membership requirements be tailored to that understanding -mentioned extensively in the letter from Bezemek law.(attached)
KindRegards,The FURA BOARD Of DIRECTORS and Members
ATTACHED IS A JUDGMENT COPY – YELLOW, LETTER FROM BEZEMEKLAW
- T.THOMAS, CHAIR
- YOLANDA MORENO VICE CHAIR
- LAVERNE SMITH, RECORDUNG SECRETARY
- CATHY FRANZELL NEWS SECRETARY
- B.THOMAS, TREASURER
- V.OAXLEY, ASSIST. TREASURER
MEMBERS AT LARGE
- DEAN CLARK
- DAREL MEHRTEN
- MOSITA MOLLISON
- ROBERT BEZEMEK
- DAVID CONWAY
- JOANNA SMITH LCSW, MPH. H/L,UNC.
VSP MANAGER & NEWSLETTER.
- WALTER FRANZELL
- FLO & STEVEN DEAK
- M. HOMOLA
- C. SARKISIAN-BONARD
Fresno Unified Retirees’ Association
S.A.F.E. BALANCE SCREENINGS FOR OLDER ADULTS
FEBRUARY 7.2015 iFURA WEBMASTER ILEAVE A COMMENT
Provided by the: SAFE – Central Valley Coalition
A Consortium with Fresno State
Are you over 55? Do you have concerns about your balance or a fear of falling?
A quick synopsis of what is offered includes:
• Group Class: courses designed to increase and improve your balance and strength, reduce your risk of falls, and increase your confidence.
• Home Exercise Program: individualized home exercise programs.
• Community Classes: Various senior sites in the surrounding areas are currently offering community group balance classes.
• Fresno State Community Health Nursing: nursing students will contact older adults to perform individualized home safety checks in their residences.
• Gait, Balance and Mobility Center; an 8 week program overseen by core-faculty members from the Physical Therapy Department and clinicians from the community.
Handouts detailing more information will be provided at the FURA Annual Meeting May 20th.
P.O. BOX 1717
Clovis, CA 93613
Thank You retirees for donations to support FURA this past year.
-+-+-+JOIN your friends and other “FURAites“…
2015 Annual Meeting, 10:01am- 12:01pm
May 20, 2015, Retired Teacher’s Bldg.,
If you need vision insurance, FURA offers VSP to all retirees. For information: www.fura-fusd.org or call Walter Franzel!
The 2014 Newsletter can be viewed by downloading the following pdf: FURA Newsletter April 2014
With the successful litigation to preserve and protect our vested retiree health benefits, FURA’s steering committee met to review and discuss the organization’s next steps:
1. FURA WILL CONTINUE AS A NON PROFIT ORGANIZATION
Webster defines “chaos” as “any confused collection or state of things, complete disorder.” In contrast, “organized” means “to become systematized or constituted into a whole of independent parts.” To be organized is to be systematized. To be without system or organization is to be in a state of chaos and therefore be vulnerable. So it is with any social institution, business enterprise, or activity such as the FUSD retirees who depend upon the combined efforts of individuals to achieve its stated purpose. The purpose of OUR organization is to preserve and protect our vested retiree health benefits. This benefit was upheld in Court and FURA is grateful for the Court’s decision. At the FURA Steering Committee fall meeting, officers believed fervently that FURA MUST continue as an organization. We must preserve our organization in the unlikely event there is another assault on our earned retiree health benefits.
2. WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON?
There is much discussion on talk radio and news programs re: the current cost to the State of California re: STRS and CalPERS pensions and obligations to those retired, and to prospective retirees. FURA must stay organized to keep a watchful eye on our earned retirement benefits and keep contact with other statewide retiree organizations.
3. WHAT HAS FURA ACCOMPLISHED SINCE THE FALL OF 2004?
! FURA was successful in its lawsuit to preserve and protect earned, retiree health benefits as PROMISED by FUSD since the inception of the program in the 1970’s.
! FURA was successful in the implementation of Ed Code 7000 dental benefits.
! FURA was successful in organizing thousands of FUSD retirees from each of the five bargaining units (CSEA 125, CSEA food sevices; SEIU, Building Trades, FTA as well as confidential, supervisory and management.)
! FURA was recognized by the State of California as a Non profit organization
! FURA publishes newsletters to inform its membership
! FURA maintains a web site to inform its membership and the public
! FURA holds at least one General Membership meeting per year
4. WHAT NEEDS TO BE ACCOMPLISHED IN THE FUTURE?
! More than 300 retirees emailed and telephoned FURA to indicate an interest in purchasing vision insurance. Our legal team headed by Bob Bezemek is working on the matter and will contact the FUSD Board of Education and Superintendent. It is important to remember that FUSD, pursuant to VSP Insurance Office, will NOT lose a penny if all retirees were allowed to purchase the insurance.
! FURA members are encouraged to contact FUSD Board members (559.457.3727) and the FUSD Superintendent (559.457.3882). Who decided that retirees who retired prior to 2009 would not be “eligible” to purchase vision insurance? This decision WAS NOT made by the FUSD board members. If not the FUSD governing board, then who? Call and make your voice heard.
! Continue to monitor the earned premium free lifetime health benefit to ensure that there isn’t a repeat of the action taken by the FUSD Board of Education in August, 2005, to assess premiums and fees.
! Share information with all retirees
! Assist retirees with retirement problems, questions, road blocks
5. ANNUAL DUES
The Steering Committee discussed the feasibility of assessing a nominal annual fee for FURA members. FURA cannot continue printing and mailing newsletters, maintaining a web site, pay state fees for a non profit organization, etc., without a stream of revenue. Remember that FURA officers are NOT reimbursed for out of pocket expenses or travel/meeting expenses. We are asking our membership to take a quick survey and let us know your thoughts re: a dues structure (please detach the following and mail it to FURA, PO Box 1717, Clovis, CA 93613-1717 or email Carole Sarkisian-Bonard at email@example.com with your thoughts on this matter.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
G Yes, I recommend annual dues
G No, I do not recommend annual dues to sustain our organization
Suggested amount of annual dues:
G Option 1: $12 per year
G Option 2: $15 per year
G Option 3: $20 per year
G Other? _____ (Please keep in mind that the greater number of retirees joining the organization will garner more income for the organization.)
As we go to press with this FURA newsletter, there hasn’t been any information from FUSD to our attorney, Bob Bezemek, as to the timeline FUSD retirees would be receiving their reimbursement checks for the illegally charged health premiums. In the meantime, each retiree who paid premiums is accruing interest from the District on the amount owed. It is hoped that some information will be forthcoming from FUSD by the time of our annual meeting on March 3, 2011.
COURT GRANTS ATTORNEY FEES
FURA is pleased to report that the Court granted FURA’s motion for attorney fees. A hearing was held in Fresno County Superior Court on November 5, 2010, with the Honorable Donald R. Franson, Jr., presiding. Judge Franson issued his tentative ruling on December 17, 2010, granting FURA’s motion and directing the District to pay nearly $2.6 million in attorney fees. The FUSD Board of Education on January 12, 2011, announced in public session, following a closed session meeting, that FUSD WILL NOT appeal the Judge’s ruling re: attorney fees. The FUSD Board of Education vote was 6 in favor NOT to appeal; 0 negative votes and one abstention (Larry Moore). FURA is appreciative of Trustee Carol Mills’ actions on FURA’s behalf regarding this matter.
GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING
RETIRED TEACHER HALL (3930 E Saginaw Way, Fresno)
MARCH 3, 2011
11:00 a.m. (Doors will open at 10:30 a.m.)
! FUSD Health Plan A Representative from FUSD Benefits Department
! Vision plan update Lynn Freeman & Carole Sarkisian-Bonard
! Legal Update Carole Sarkisian-Bonard
! FURA 2 gap group Cathy Franzell
! Reimbursement checks Carole Sarkisian-Bonard
! Treasurer’s report Barbara Thomas
Protect your Health Benefits!
As you may know, on March 5, 2010, at the conclusion of the hearing on the retirees’ Motion for Writ of Mandate, Judge Donald R. Franson, Jr., of the Fresno County Superior Court ruled that the Fresno Unified School District is no longer allowed to charge premiums, fees or other periodic contributions to retirees who receive district-paid health benefits (who retired on or before April 17, 2006).
On April 22, 2010, the Court entered a written judgment confirming that the District cannot make premium charges to retirees. The Judgment ordered the District to reinstate the benefit for class-member retirees, and make these retirees whole for premiums and fees that they have paid, plus interest. Along with the Judgment, the Court issued a Statement of Decision. This Statement set forth the Court’s explanation of its Judgment and outlined the retirees’ evidence on which the Court relied in reaching its decision.
The Statement of Decision holds that: “Retirees’ evidence proved that in 1976 and 1977, the Fresno Unified School District and labor unions representing nearly all of its employees, agreed on these district-paid health benefits, which Retirees have referred to throughout this litigation as the ‘Promise.’ The District then extended this promise to the FUSD’s non-unionized employees, such as managers, supervisors and confidential secretaries.”
The Statement then goes on to find nearly every argument and factual assertion put forth by Retirees: the District used this Promise to recruit and retain employees for the duration of their careers; the District used the Promise to explain its inability to offer larger pay increases during labor negotiations; that active employees always paid premiums, but retirees did not; and that the District reaffirmed its Promise to retiring employees at is “exit interviews.”
The Statement holds that “overwhelming evidence” supported the Retirees’ claim. It states that the Court’s finding was based, in part, on the District’s collective bargaining agreements, health pamphlets, the declarations provided to FURA by the District’s past superintendents, and other administrators, statements made by District recruiters and the recorded statement made by the District’s benefits director at an early retirement meeting in 1996.
The Statement held that the Promise was deferred compensation, “earned by employees for services rendered,” and that such compensation is protected by the California and U.S. Constitutions. The Statement also held that the evidence established the necessary elements for FURA’s other claims, equitable and promissory estoppel.
A copy of this Statement is available at FURA’s website, .
The Court’s Judgment is now final. On June 2, 2010, the Fresno Unified School District Board voted unanimously at their open meeting to not appeal the Court’s ruling. The District’s statutory deadline for appealing the ruling has passed, and ruling is final. (The District’s strict and unmovable deadline for appealing the Judgment was June 21, 2010.)
Soon, FUSD and FURA will send a letter to everyone in our class (those who retired prior to April 17, 2006) notifying them that premiums are no longer required. The letter also will provide updates on the next steps in this litigation. These next steps include the District, FURA and the Court determining both the issue of attorney’s fees for FURA’s attorneys, and how much money and interest is owed to each Retiree. This process is ongoing, and we do not know when it will be complete.
We do know that this issue will not be completed before the Court hearing on attorney’s fees on September 10, 2010. The District and FURA are working to resolve the matter of reimbursement as soon as possible, but cannot complete this task prior to the hearing, as it may impact the District’s and FURA’s calculations.
The hearing on Retirees’ Motion for Attorney’s Fees and Costs will be held on September 10, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. in Department 97D of the Fresno County Superior Court courthouse at 2317 Tuolumne Street, between M and N streets. As always, we strongly encourage all FURA members and retirees to attend.
By Robert J. Bezemek, FURA Legal Counsel
FURA GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING SEPTEMBER 9, 2010
12:30 PM – 3:30 PM
THE RETIRED TEACHERS MEMORIAL BUILDING (3930 E Saginaw Way, Fresno)
WANT VISION INSURANCE?
FURA Steering Committee member Lynn Freeman has researched the issue of District Vision Insurance with VSP. Please review the following:
! FUSD currently allows retirees who retired AFTER January 1, 2009, to purchase VSP Vision Insurance for $7 per retiree or $14 per couple per month
! This is the same plan current FUSD employees receive with their benefit package
! FUSD refuses to allow retirees who retired BEFORE January 1, 2009, to purchase VSP Vision Insurance
! FUSD personnel acknowledge that the District does not spend or lose any money if all retirees were able to purchase the insurance
! FURA is determining interest from those interested in purchasing VSP Insurance
! If you and/or your spouse are interested in purchasing VSP Insurance at the District’s current rate of $7 per month per person enrolled, please email FURA President Carole Sarkisian-Bonard at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a message at 559.970.0615.
! Please indicate your interest in purchasing VSP Insurance by August 30, 2010.**
! FURA leaders and its legal team will contact the FUSD Board of Education to discuss the feasibility of ALL retirees to purchase VSP Insurance.
! It is FURA’s understanding that the FUSD Board of Education did not vote on the issue of who may or may not purchase the VSP insurance
! It is FURA’s understanding that the Administrative Services Division (Business Division of FUSD) determined who may or may not purchase the VSP Insurance
** Please note that an indication of interest of purchasing VSP Insurance does not obligate anyone to enroll or purchase the insurance. FURA must have an indication of the total number of FURA members/spouses who are interested before we begin dialogue with the FUSD Board of Education.
A hearty “THANK YOU” to the 1200+ FUSD retirees that, since January 2005, have donated the funds to FURA that has made possible our victory in preserving our vested health benefits. This victory would not have been possible without the support of each of you!!
BUT – ARE WE DONE YET?
! We don’t as yet have an absolute end date when all will be completed.
! We don’t know if FURA will have to pay additional attorney and /or other fees.
! We don’t know if FURA will continue to ask you for more money.
! We don’t know if FURA will be reimbursed for attorney fees by FUSD.
! We don’t know if FURA is still honor bound to continue paying attorney and/or other fees.
! We don’t know if FURA will be reimbursed for FURA newsletter and meeting costs.
! We don’t know if FURA will be made ‘whole’ as will FUSD retirees that have made premium payments.
And now for the rest of the story — Are you one of the over 2200 FUSD retirees that have NOT YET contributed? Well, now is the time to at least pay for receiving the newsletters!
SEND DONATIONS TO:
P O BOX 1717
CLOVIS, CA 93613
Barbara Thomas, Treasurer
MARK CALENDARS FOR THE NEXT COURT HEARING
On Friday, September 10, 2010, a hearing related to FURA’s request for attorney fees and court costs. The hearing is scheduled for 9:00 A.M. at Civil Court House, Tuolumne & M Streets. Remember that these hearings are sometimes rescheduled. In the unlikely event that rescheduling happens, be sure to check the FURA Website: OR telephone Carole Sarkisian-Bonard at 559-970-0615 for updates.
T – H – A – N – K – S
How does one express gratitude and thanks to so many people who so diligently contributed to FURA’s cause over these last five years. Words will not be adequate to show appropriate thanks for the hours of concentrated effort that so many of you so graciously contributed to the success of our cause, but one must try!
T Stands for the time you spent in searching personal files, gathering and forwarding information, making personal contacts, volunteering time to various tasks, attending FURA meetings, stuffing envelopes, giving depositions, keeping faith in this cause, and contributing hard earned retirement dollars to keep the process moving.
H Stands for a hard fought victory. We had the benefit of the best legal counsel in this state, if not in this country. If not for the efforts of Robert Bezemek and his legal team this case would have ended much sooner and to our detriment. Bob and his team were brilliant in our defense as was demonstrated the many times our team presented in front of Judge Franson.
A Stands for the positive attitude that permeated this process and the encouragement all of you supplied throughout this prolonged case. It was a “can do” because it is the “right thing to do” attitude that kept the process moving and on track even when situations seemed bleak and undoable. I hope you all understand how your words of encouragement spoke volumes to our committee and legal team.
N Stands for national precedence in case law. This case will be cited in future decisions affecting retiree’s lifetime health benefits. The number of employees across this land who will benefit from this victory would be hard to calculate. Many will rest in the knowledge that if it were not for Fresno’s case they would be forced to pay out of pocket for legally earned health benefits. Your persistence and support helped to make this case winnable.
K Stands for keeping faith in this elongated endeavor. It is hard to imagine how anyone could endure for five years, yet your support never wavered. When meetings were called, court appearances scheduled, requests for help in completing tasks, you were there to give of your time, experience and expertise to whatever was required.
S Stands for sincerity of our appreciation. As was stated in the beginning, words would not be adequate to express our gratitude, but on behalf of FURA and the Steering Committee we say THANKS to all who helped secure this victory. Let us continue to be vigilant and grateful as we celebrate together. YOU WON!
Sincerely, FURA Steering Committee
NOTICE TO THOSE WHO RETIRED AFTER APRIL 17, 2006
If you, or someone you know, retired AFTER April 17, 2006, and want to join other retirees in our FURA 2 group, please contact Cathy Franzell. Phone: 559-298-4606 (OR) Email: email@example.com.
Cathy has a data base of over 105 FUSD retirees who retired after April 17, 2006, and therefore not a part of FURA’s successful class action lawsuit. It is important to organize now and make our voices heard to the FUSD Board of Education. Each one of us has the same promise from FUSD when we were hired and we served loyally for decades often going without raises to assist the District. The premium free lifetime health benefit is deferred compensation and earned by vested retirees meeting the l6 years of service and retiring at age 571/2.
Telephone or email Cathy now!
WHAT IS FURA 2?
Since Judge Franson ruled that the FURA class action lawsuit applied to all FUSD retirees who retired prior to April 17, 2006, FURA II was formed. FURA 2 retirees were given the same promise by FUSD concerning lifetime health care premium free benefit. The retiree health benefits are a long standing vested right of the District’s retirees and earned by the retirees through many loyal decades of devoted service. The District promised to pay the cost of premiums for retirees’ health care and this should apply to all vested retires.
I have been contacted by more than 100 retirees who have voiced a commitment to seek an equitable solution as was determined by the successful FURA class action lawsuit. A FURA II organizational meeting will be held in early September. Specific information regarding date, time and place will be provided. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone at 559.298.4606. A tentative date for our organizational meeting will be September 9, 2010, at 1:30 pm at the Retired Teachers Memorial Building on Saginaw Way across from Centennial Elementary.
Who All FURA members and spouses
What Annual General Membership Meeting
Where Retired Teachers’ Memorial Hall – 3930 East Saginaw Way, Fresno, CA 93726-5296
When Thursday, March 4, 2010 – 10:30 a.m.
Robert J. Bezemek, Attorney at Law – Informational Update on the next morning’s court hearing
The last newsletter and letters to you from members of the steering committee resulted in significant donations. Enough so that we are paying the immediate out of pocket expenses, though we still have an outstanding bill with the attorneys. Thank you ALL for your donations. EACH DONATION COUNTS! The $10 check from a 97 year old dependent of a deceased retired teacher, the $25.00 donation that we receive from a retired couple each month and every donation that you have sent in. We have received letters and donations from our supporters – other retirees and their organizations – from both north and south California.
There are FUSD retirees who have not donated and consider themselves “safe” from increased premiums because they are “over 75” or they are oblivious to the ramifications of FUSD administrators decisions to impose significantly greater premiums upon retirees if FURA loses this legal action. Every
retiree and their dependent’s health benefits would be at the mercy of FUSD administration. FUSD is an entity governed by people who make the decisions to abandon promises by previous Boards and administrations and to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their lawyers in order to take away our vested rights for lifetime health care.
Donations support our attorneys and our resolve in this very important fight to continue to receive promised life time health benefits with no premium. We ask you to continue your support and donations. Thank you again!
FURA vs FUSD Trial date
Friday, March 5, 2010 – 9:00 a.m.
Fresno County Civil CourtHouse
Tuolumne and M Streets
(Note: There always remains the possibility of a continuance at the last minute of the hearing. Check the FURA web site for updates at http://www.fura-fusd.org). If you don’t have a computer, call a friend or call FURA President Carole Sarkisian-Bonard at 559.970.0615. Leave a message and Carole will return the call.)
Protect your Health Benefits!
SEND YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO:
Fresno Unified Retirees’ Association
PO Box 1717, Clovis, California 93613
On March 5, 2010, in the Fresno County Superior Court, the Honorable Donald R. Franson, Jr., Judge, issued a decision granting the Petition for Writ of Mandate filed by the Fresno Unified Retirees Association (FURA), on behalf of a District-wide class of 3,500 retirees, against the Fresno Unified School District, thereby confirming and enforcing the District’s Promise of district-paid, lifetime retiree health benefits.
The hearing, coming five years and five months after Fresno retirees first contacted our office for assistance, was attended by more than 200 retirees, and interested retiree groups from other districts, who packed the courtroom and another next door. For the first time the District had a single management representative in court for the hearing. FURA members have attended the many court hearings in large numbers, reflecting their intense interest in the case.
It was not anticipated by FURA that a decision would be issued on March 5. But in an unexpected and dramatic conclusion to the parties’ lengthy oral argument, the judge read a decision which holds that the Fresno retirees were the beneficiaries of an express contract which promised that the District would provide them with retiree health benefits without charge (no premiums, fees, assessments) following retirement, for those who served the requisite years and met other conditions.
The District imposed premiums and fees on retirees in 2006, retroactive to 2005, in violation of this Promise, and has thus far collected roughly $850,000 each year from its retiree class members.
The litigation battle involved numerous legal disputes. Eventually, the District’s procedural defenses to the case proceeding were rejected, and the class of retirees was “certified” during 2009. FURA filed its Motion for a Peremptory Writ of Mandate on August 31, 2009.
FURA’s Motion filled three completely full boxes, and included declarations and testimony from about 55 witnesses, including 3 former superintendents, 2 former District chief negotiators, District recruiters, District risk managers, District human resources personnel, several union leaders and negotiators, and other employees. Altogether, FURA estimates that at least 20,000 pages of evidence was submitted, including about a 1,000 pages of nearly verbatim negotiation notes from the 1976-1977 negotiations.
We also filed copies of more than 50 collective bargaining agreements, and hundreds of other exhibits. These exhibits included recruitment literature, retirement forms, letters, negotiation newsletters and handbills, auditor reports, health pamphlets and even the recording of an early retiree recruitment meeting. Four former superintendents, the District’s two chief negotiators over a 30 year span, the teachers’ union chief negotiators for 25 years, other district and union negotiators, a district director of “risk management,” a district CFO, district recruiters, those conducting new employee orientations and those conducting retiree exit interviews were among our witnesses for whom we submitted evidence.
We argued that the District made a promise of lifetime, fully-paid retirement health benefits (no premiums or fees). More than 45 of the documents referred to the lifetime benefits, and many of these had been sent by the District to hundreds or thousands of its employees. We proved that employees accepted lower wages in exchange for these lifetime benefits. We offered proof that “district-paid” was understood by management and union negotiators to mean “fully paid,” and “no charges” for premiums or fees. One particularly notable piece of evidence was a tape-recording, made by a hearing-impaired prospective retiree, of a district manager informing prospective retirees that the benefit was fully-paid by the district, for life, and that was “all” they needed to know. The District deposed 15 of our witnesses during the summer, who consistently re-affirmed the District’s promise, and FURA introduced much of that testimony as well.
The District responded with their Opposition on November 23, 2010. The District’s Opposition raised approximately 10 defenses. The retirees filed their Reply on January 19, 2010, countering each of the District’s defenses.
The hearing on March 5 was the culmination of this process. In his decision, Judge Franson stated his conclusions, including that the District made an express promise in its contracts and policies to provide these benefits without monthly premium contributions or administrative fees. The Judge referenced the contracts and other evidence he relied on, particularly the evidence of the former superintendents, District managers, District negotiators, and recruiters. His decision essentially holds that the District had made a vested promise, which it impaired when it imposed premiums. He cited the Terry case, saying it was still good law. The Judge also held that independent of the agreements, the District was estopped from now charging premiums or fees.
During its closing argument, the District advanced several entirely new defenses, but these did not affect the outcome, and FURA successfully refuted each.
The District argued that nothing prevented it from enacting a “fee,” for retirees to “pre-fund” the future cost of their benefits. Retirees countered that the Promise of the district was fully understood to mean that the retirees did not pay for their benefit after retirement (as opposed to co-pays and deductibles); and that they had expressed this by using numerous words such as district-paid, fully paid, at no charge, at district expense and so on. Retirees argued that the term “administrative fee” was newly created by the District and not part of the parties’ vocabulary in 1976-1977 when the Plan was initiated, and that in the District’s view it apparently could charge any type or amount of fee it wanted, such as a “convenience fee” under its new theory, although the plain intent of the Plan was that the benefit was to be fully paid. Retirees accused the District of playing wordgames by advancing this new theory at the last minute.
The District argued that it never promised “fully paid benefits,” then cited a consultant’s study from 20 years ago as proof. However, as the Judge commented, that study indicated the benefits were to be fully paid.
The District argued that nothing prevented it from vindictively jacking up deductibles to $10,000 a year, or cutting health care services to the bone, if it could no longer charge retirees premiums. Retirees countered that this case was not about deductibles, that any increase in deductibles had to be bargained, that an evisceration of a Promise by increasing deductibles would also be illegal. The Judge agreed this case was not about deductibles. Retirees also countered that restricting benefit coverage would be like refusing to treat someone with a modern medical development and “bleeding them” to treat an infection. Thus, this District’s argument that it could “cut services” also fell flat.
The District argued that a writ of mandate could not be granted because the District had “discretion” to charge fees, since the only promise it made was that of “no premiums.” Again, retirees proved in innumerable exhibits that the Promise was to provide a plan at “no charge” after retirement, a fully-paid plan, which prevents the district from charging “fees” to retirees.
Finally, the District argued it should have “flexibility” to impose charges on retirees after they retired. This argument essentially rejected nearly 100 years of precedent protecting deferred compensation and the legitimate expectations of retirees. While public employers can, in extremely limited situations, impose changes in vested rights on a temporary basis, out of a proven fiscal necessity, such changes merely defer a promise during an unexpected emergency. Here, the money taken from retirees is less than one tenth of one percent of the District’s annual budget, and the District neither sought to nor proved the extreme, dire necessity allowing the temporary deferral of a vested benefit.
It should be noted that retirees do not get their benefits “for free.” Retirees pay the same co-pays and deductibles as are paidby active employees. In addition, retirees who are Medicare- eligible are required to join Medicare, and once they do, they pay Medicare premiums, with the District providing only a Medicare- supplement plan. In addition, in 2006 the District restricted the benefit significantly for future retirees, and eliminated it almost totally for new hires.
In his decision the Judge ordered the District to reinstate that benefit, and make retirees whole for premiums and fees that they have paid, plus interest. A hearing on costs and legal fees will take place in the future.
FURA’s success in this case is resulted from not only the strength of its case, but also to the collective action of the Fresno Unified retirees in coming together to form an effective, committed organization, which located thousands of documents that provided invaluable evidence of the Promise, to the testimony of scores of witnesses, to the selfless commitment and assistance of FURA’s founders and leaders, to the hundreds of retirees and others who gave countless hours of their time and information, to retiree groups and others throughout California who came to FURA’s aid with financial and other support, and to the commitment of numerous people in our office or who worked withus on some or all parts of the case, and others. This brief note barely scratches the surface in describing the efforts undertaken by everyone over the last five years and five months.
The retirees case was very strong, with an especially powerful factual record confirming the promised benefits. FURA’s evidence included scores of documents which had been issued by the District over a period of 30 years, and which inducted retirees’ reliance on the promise. Most retirees worked about 30 years for the District, and altogether the 3, 500 retirees in the class served upwards of 100,000 years of public service for the Fresno School District and the students of Fresno.
This case was about the sanctity of contracts, and the retirees’ enforcement of a fundamental principle of law, one the Founding Fathers fought for when they created this country: that contracts should be enforced, and not impaired by governmental action. FURA is very pleased the retirees’ rights have been enforced.
The Judge directed that a formal written Statement of Decision be prepared, and that process will take several weeks. It is not known if the District plans to appeal the decision.
Dated: March 10, 2010
By Robert J. Bezemek, FURA Legal Counsel
FURA 2 Group
This class action law suit only included those FUSD retirees who retired on or before April 17, 2006. FURA has received numerous inquiries from FUSD retirees who retired after that date. If you know of someone who retired after April 17, 2006, and wants to be included in a new FURA group seeking to have their district-paid, lifetime retiree health benefits restored, please contact FURA member:
Victory in Retiree Case
Message from FURA President Carole Sarkisian-Bonard
Dear Fellow Retiree and FURA member:
Thank you for your courage, your generosity, your tenacity over the past 5 1/2 years of litigation. As you know, on March 5, 2010, Fresno County Superior Judge issued a decision granting a win for FURA over FUSD and confirming and enforcing the District’s promise of district-paid, lifetime retiree health benefits.
Gratitude also must be expressed to members of the FURA Steering Committee who served as named plaintiffs in this case. They volunteered years of their lives and endured legal wrangling as well.
Where does FURA begin to congratulate and thank our lead attorney Robert J. Bezemek and his fine staff including attorneys, David Conway, John Varga, Patty Lim, para legal Esta Grill and so many others of the firm? Bob was brilliant in court from the inception of this case when FURA contacted him in November of 2004 to last Friday’s oral arguments and victory.
Litigation is not for the weak of heart and is long and expensive. FURA is grateful for the generosity of so many of our members. However, there remain many who have not contributed at all. This is your chance to stand up and continue our fight. This process is costly and the expenses are many, especially if the District decides to appeal this case. Remember that your donation
is deductible for the California Franchise Tax Board but not deductible on your federal returns. Our FURA treasurer, Barbara Thomas, often refers to a Church picnic: some bring a hot dish, some only a fork and some only an appetite. It is my hope that all who have benefitted from the generosity of so many will now make an effort to contribute whatever is possible – be it an extra fork or a pot roast, every bit is appreciated. Send your check to:
Fresno Unified Retirees’ Association
P.O. Box 1717
Clovis, CA 93613
If you have not contributed to the legal defense fund (remember: all FURA donations only go towards our newsletters and our legal defense fund) please do so today. Don’t let others carry the burden while you reap the benefit of our dedication, our labor, our contributions and lifetime premium free retiree health benefits.
Thank you again to the FURA members who made a difference. It was David vs. Goliath and ultimately, like David, with right on our side, FURA emerged victorious. Thank you for your emails and your telephone calls of good wishes. FURA’s mission is to preserve and protect our vested retiree health benefits. The mission remains.
On August 31, 2009, our office filed FURA’s Motion for Peremptory Writ of Mandate, asking the Superior Court to restore FUSD retirees’ promised, lifetime benefits, without premiums, fees or contributions. In support of the Motion, we submitted 39 sworn witness declarations from former superintendents, negotiators, recruiters and other witnesses, and deposition testimony from 8 more. Thousands of pages of documentary evidence were presented, along with a 25 page Index of Evidence and FURA’s legal argument. FURA’s Motion and Index of Evidence are available on FURA’s website at http://www.fura-fusd.org.
During Fall 2009, the District deposed twelve of the witnesses who provided FURA with sworn declarations. These witnesses consistently reiterated their understanding of the District’s promise to provide FUSD eligible retirees with premium-free, fully-paid, lifetime health benefits.
On November 23, 2009, the District filed its Response to FURA’s Motion for Peremptory Writ of Mandate. The District’s Response included five sworn witness statements (including one from its legal counsel), and no new documentary evidence. In its response, the District attempted to muster arguments justifying its failure to provide FURA retirees with premium-free lifetime benefits. Our office anticipated these arguments, believe them to be entirely without merit, and is currently working on its formal Reply to the District’s Response to the Motion.
FURA is allowed until January 20, 2010, to file its Reply. On March 5, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. in department 97D, the Court will hold a hearing on FURA’s Motion. We strongly encourage all retirees to attend this important hearing, during which the Court will hear the parties’ arguments on the merits of the case.
by David Conway, attorney
Law Offices of Robert J. Bezemek
Thank you for your donations. EVERY DONATION COUNTS! The $5.00 donation from the 93 year old retired elementary teacher and more than $1000.00 each year from some of you. I am humbled by your generosity and dedication to our cause.
It is obvious to me, your treasurer, that retirees who do not donate consider themselves “safe” from increased premiums because they are “over 75” or are oblivious to the ramifications as to the size of premiums that FUSD will impose upon us if FURA loses this legal action. Every retiree and their dependent’s health benefits are at risk.
Retiree’s who support FURA with donations will be the ones getting the newsletters and updates. If you have friends that do not receive this newsletter it will be because they have not donated.
by Barbara Thomas
The December 18 Court Hearing has been changed to:
March 5, 2010
Fresno County Civil Court House – Dept. 97D
Tuolumne at N Street
Protect your Health Benefits!
SEND YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO:
Fresno Unified Retirees’ Association
PO Box 1717, Clovis, California 93613