The Fresno Unified Retirees’ Association (FURA) represents the interests of over 3,500 retirees from every position in the District–from former bus drivers, custodians, noon duty supervisors and cafeteria workers to teachers, nurses, counselors and superintendents. For almost two years, FURA petitioned the District to preserve and restore District-paid benefits. After being stonewalled by the District, FURA was forced to file suit. After almost two more years of stalling tactics by District lawyers, the case is finally moving forward in the Courts–but it doesn’t need to. If the District would just live by its promise and restore to retirees the District-paid premiums they earned, this case could be resolved. Some members of the community accuse retirees of being greedy. We are not. We are suing to obtain what we were promised, what we worked for, and what we earned. Every one of us provided long years of devoted service to our community, at lower wages than we could have earned elsewhere. Now, we live on fixed incomes. Paying premiums like those in Clovis would force some to choose between health insurance and food. Is that greed?
Some people question how the District can afford to fulfill its promise to retirees in times of decreasing enrollment and diminished funding from the State. This is not a case of students versus retirees. The District carries twice the financial reserves required by the State; it has more than enough funds to pay retirees’ premiums.
Thirty years ago, the FUSD promised a District-paid retiree health benefit plan to all employees who worked the requisite number of years and retired from the District. This promise was no mere gratuity; the Retiree Health Benefit Plan is DEFERRED COMPENSATION devised to induce long and loyal service from employees. FUSD employees working for less pay than they could have earned in the private sector, and accepted lower pay increases many times in exchange for the promise of future District-paid retiree health benefits. Under California law, promised retirement benefits are protected as a vested right, just like a pension, and public employers are obligated to fulfill the reasonable expectations of retirees. From 1977 to 2004, FUSD continually reinforced employees’ expectations that a District-paid health plan would be waiting for them if they retired with enough years of service and met age requirements.
But in 2004, the District began to renege on its promise, and it eventually imposed charges to retirees for their already earned benefits. Many retirees were forced to pay retroactive fees of almost $1,000 under threat of having their benefits taken away. But the damage didn’t stop there. The District continues to charge most retirees on a monthly basis, and it has insisted it could charge even higher premiums in the future. Clovis USD retirees pay up to $648/month for a married couple. How far is FUSD willing to go?
THINK ABOUT IT!
FOR 30 YEARS FRESNO UNIFIED PROMISED ITS EMPLOYEES DISTRICT-PAID RETIREMENT HEALTH BENEFITS FOR LIFE!
THE PROMISE WAS NO SECRET!
TIME AFTER TIME, ORALLY AND IN WRITING, THE DISTRICT PROMISED:
“District-paid coverage at age fifty-seven and one-half (57 ½ ).”
(Source: 40+ District/Union Collective Bargaining Agreements, 1977-2004.)
“No monthly premiums after 57 ½.”
(Source: Forms signed by employees at retirement.)
“Employees . . . shall be eligible for district paid coverage at age 57 ½.”
(Source: Blue Cross Health Plan brochure, 12/79.)
“The lifetime medical benefits does not apply to you until you become 57 ½ . . . there are no monthly premiums, however, after age 57 ½.”
(Source: A district administrator at early retirement meeting, October 1996.)
“Your last payment will be the month following your 57 ½ …after 57 ½ the benefit is District paid.”
(Source: District PARS meeting to recruit early retirements, October 2001.)
“Fresno Unified cares about the lives of its employees. That’s why Fresno Unified is one of the few districts that still offers lifetime benefits for retirees and their spouses…they do not have to pay for health insurance after they retire.”
(Source: District-prepared handbills for negotiations with Teachers’ Union.)
“Fresno USD is one of a small number of school districts that provide fully paid health benefits for retired employees, their spouses and dependents for life…”
(Source: District presentation to PERB Fact-Finding Panel in 2002.)