The Daily Californian Online

Livermore Lab Retirees Bring New Evidence to Benefits Suit

By True Shields
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011
Category: News > City > Courts

Met with a lukewarm response in court last December, a group of UC retirees who worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory submitted a new petition on Monday bolstering their claims that their retirement benefits were unjustly altered.

The grassroots UC Livermore Retirees Group brought an amended complaint with several new pieces of evidence against the UC Board of Regents, whom the group claims allowed Lawrence Livermore National Security to raise premiums and co-payments despite promising otherwise.

Lab retirees Joe Requa, Jay Davis and Donna Ventura - who started working at the lab in the 1960s and 1970s - each report paying about $1,000 more in premiums than retirees in other departments in 2009 as a result of the consortium's policy changes. Requa and Davis estimate paying an extra $1,000 in 2010.

Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled last December that the regents' demurrer - a legal attack that is essentially a request to throw out a case - would be sustained with leave to amend, allowing the retirees time to rework their case.

Among the evidence presented in the new complaint are excerpts from a May 1990 Retiree Handbook, in which the university denies that references to benefits do not constitute its "endorsement, recommendation, or favoring."

"In the late '90s, (the UC) changed their tune," Carl Whitaker, a publicist hired by the retirees, said. "Fine print appeared that states the UC reserved the right to change the benefits at any time."

A 1998 version of the handbook states: "The University of California intends to continue the benefits described here indefinitely; however, the benefits of all ... plan beneficiaries are subject to change or termination at the time of contract renewal or at any other time by the University or other governing authorities."

Representatives from the UC declined to comment. Representatives from the consortium could not be reached as of press time.

As recently as July 2010, the university stated in a post-employment benefits report that the retirement program it offers compensates for the lack of competitive salaries that private companies might offer. Some fear that this policy has already been compromised.

"(The UC) used these benefits as a tool to get them away from the private companies, but now they are saying 'tough,'" said Andrew Thomas Sinclair, who represents the retirees.

Ventura, who worked at the lab from 1974 to 2006, said retirees' only recourse to the alteration or termination of their benefits would be to seek full-cost Medicare.

"If they can do this to one group of UC retirees, they can do this to any group," she said. "It's not just us that are in danger."

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