Orange Unified Sued by Retired Teachers


A $75-million lawsuit filed on behalf of 700 retired teachers charges that the Orange Unified School District has reneged on a 23-year-old agreement to give retirees free lifetime medical care in exchange for lower salaries.

The suit, filed late Monday, also contends the school district for years didn’t pay into a fund for the health care.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in the war between the school district and its teachers. But in this case, not only is Orange Unified Education Assn. President John Rossmann attacking the school board, he also is accusing previous union leadership of selling out the retirees.


James Bowles, the district’s labor law attorney, said the district was not supposed to pay into a health care fund, that the retirees’ health care was never free and that any changes in retirement benefits were negotiated during collective bargaining.

But the lawsuit says that according to state law, the teachers union cannot negotiate for retirees, since they are no longer employees. “I’m not claiming the district or the union did something wrong,” said Mark Lerner, attorney for the retired teachers. “They just did something beyond the scope of their ability.”

Bowles called the lawsuit a bargaining tactic, and made no attempt to hide his distaste for the union president. “What’s happening is a new [union] regime, the Rossmann regime, is supporting the lawsuit against an agreement its predecessor negotiated,” Bowles said. “They don’t like the deal they cut two years ago.”

The suit, which also seeks class-action status, is similar to one filed by 325 nonteaching retirees that is scheduled to go to trial next month.

Inescapable in any dealings between the teachers and the school district is their acrimonious relationship. Orange Unified teachers earn less money than their counterparts elsewhere in the county. Many stayed with the district because of the promise of lifetime health insurance, which the district has said it can no longer afford.

Rossmann said “affording” has nothing to do with it, since that money belonged to teachers. But instead of going for salaries, he said, it was supposed to fund health care.


After more than a year of bargaining, the district and the union agreed on a contract last spring. But the rank-and-file rejected the offer and Rossmann was elected union president.

The relationship between the union and the district has continued to deteriorate--complete with accusations of unfair labor practices--and a contract still has not been agreed upon.

* GAY CLUB REJECTED: Orange trustees won’t allow meetings at El Modena. A1