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Adding to Mounting Legal Challenges for Scott, Public Employees Sue Over 3% Pension Hit

| June 21, 2011

florida education association pension 3 percent cut lawsuit

Jasper Johns wants his 3 percent back.

Likening the change to an income tax, the Florida Education Association on Monday challenged the constitutionality of a new law that will force government workers to pay into the state pension system.

The FEA, backed by other labor groups, said the Legislature’s decision last month to require workers to chip in 3 percent of their pay violates contractual and collective-bargaining rights.

The case, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, is a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 556,296 people, including state employees, teachers and police officers. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents police and correctional officers, quickly sought to formally intervene in the case.

It’s a huge change, and I know there are other places that have people contribute, but they usually make a lot more than we do, too,” Flagler Education Association President Katie Hansen said Tuesday evening, referring to the effects of a 3 percent cut on teacher salaries. Moments earlier the Flagler County School Board had approved a “step” pay increase for teachers averaging 2 percent for next year. A “step” increase is tied to each additional year of experience. “You’re going to see that ripple effects in the community. We’re going to get step as of July 1, but it’s not even going to counteract that 3 percent and the increase to our insurance that we’re getting this year.”

Earlier this month, at the urging of Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin, the local school board had a workshop with Ron Meyer–the same attorney who filed the FEA lawsuit–to hear possibilities of leading a suit, or a class-action suit, against the state on unfunded mandates. That discussion was unrelated to the teachers’ suit. But it stemmed from the same source, Conklin said.

“It’s a reflection of where this state is right now,” Conklin said. “The only thing they have in common is that they would be born out of frustration of not being able to have our collective voices heard.” The Flagler school board, at Meyer’s recommendation–possibly because Meyer was verging on filing the other suit– decided not to go ahead with a suit of its own yet, but to keep talking about it.

Scott’s administration, meanwhile, is facing a mounting number of suits stemming from the last legislative session. The ACLU sued over a new law he championed to drug-test all state employees, forcing him to retreat last week. The FEA is likely to sue over the merit-pay measure Scott got through the Legislature.

FEA President Andy Ford said the state “should abide by the promises it makes” to employees, who have not been required to contribute to the retirement system since the 1970s. The case has 11 named plaintiffs from across the state.

“It is essentially an income tax levied only on the workers belonging to the Florida Retirement System,’’ Ford said during a conference call with reporters.

But Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the changes into law May 26, issued a statement saying he is “confident this law is good for the people of Florida and will stand up in court.’’

“Asking state employees to pay a small percentage into their pensions is common sense,’’ Scott said. “Floridians who don’t work in government are required to pay into their own retirement. This is about fairness for those who don’t have government jobs. Plus, we are ensuring a pension will be there for state employees when they retire.’’

State Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, also contrasted Florida with other states that already require employee contributions.

“I think it’s legal, I think it’s practical and, frankly, I think it’s realistic given the times we live in today,’’ said Weatherford, who is expected to become House speaker after the 2012 elections. Gaetz is expected to become Senate president.

The contribution requirement is slated to take effect July 1. FEA attorney Ron Meyer said the lawsuit seeks to require the state to set aside the money collected and return it with interest to workers if the challenge is successful.

That means, however, employees will see at least temporary reductions in their paychecks in the coming weeks.

In a letter released when he signed the changes into law (SB 2100), Scott said the 3 percent contributions would save public employers $769 million a year. The lawsuit also challenges another part of the law that eliminates automatic 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees, a change Scott said would save $775 million a year.

If the constitutional challenge is successful, Ford said lawmakers could find other ways to make up the money, such as closing tax loopholes and more fully collecting taxes on goods sold over the Internet. But lawmakers have flatly rejected such ideas in the past.

Proposals to change the pension system touched off a political fight during the legislative session, with workers contending they should not face additional costs when many have gone years without raises. Supporters of the changes, however, said the state system should more closely resemble private-sector retirement plans.

FEA officials made clear during a call with reporters they also expect to challenge other measures passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature. That likely will include a lawsuit against SB 736, which ties teacher pay to student test scores.

The pension lawsuit centers, in part, on a 1974 law that halted employee contributions to the retirement system. That law says the rights of retirement system members are “contractual in nature” and “shall not be abridged in any way.’’

Meyer said lawmakers could make changes to the retirement system for future employees. But he said requiring contributions and changing the cost-of-living adjustments for people already enrolled in the system violates their rights.

The lawsuit alleges that the changes are an unconstitutional “impairment of contract” and an unconstitutional “taking” of property. It also alleges the changes violate the state constitution’s collective bargaining requirements.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive

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14 Responses for “Adding to Mounting Legal Challenges for Scott, Public Employees Sue Over 3% Pension Hit”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    It was time to star this battle for fairness. My best wishes for success to our public workers.
    Tell Rick Scott to go and collect the taxes that they don’t pay like, the Arison’s and other cruise lines owners, using our ports. Also have the Arison’s and the Nascar France family also contribute proper taxes and pay a fair lease on our stadiums/speedways, to the tax revenue. Have the oil companies pay the fair taxes and the wealthy as well, pay their fare share as we middle class do. We do have budgets with insufficient revenue as the supposed biggest contributors do not pay their fair share or are exempted from paying taxes, Mr. Rick Scott

  2. poor public employee says:

    when working in the school system at 15,000 a year and that being split into 22 pays and insurance raising by at the min 22.00 a pay period and you go to taking 3% away that equals a little more than a pay check now that leaves a single mom with two kids less than 21 pay checks to survive on rick scott definatly does not think of the total effect his decisions will have on others so sad!!!!!1

  3. Jim J says:

    Public employees need to start payiing for their insurance .

  4. Katie H says:

    Jim J – many public employees do pay for their insurance, including teachers in Flagler County. The School Board contributes a small percentage towards insurance. The bottom line is that state employees have a contract with the state and the legislature should not have passed a law that violates that contract.

  5. JL says:

    Well, when the public employees of Florida start earning a decent, livable wage, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind contributing to their retirement. But when you barely pay them enough to make a living, how do you expect them to also save for retirement on thier own. How about giving them a decent raise, Rick Scott? Oh, that’s right, you’re interested in cutting their salaries, too. And who voted for this idiot? School teachers and staff don’t make a real wage. My mother was a teacher for over 30 years. I often wondered why she didn’t go into the private sector. She would have earned more money. She cared more about the children. As a good teacher should. If the contract says they don’t contribute, the state needs to honor that contract. Is there anything we can trust in anymore?

  6. The Truth says:

    Let’s get to work!

  7. Mike says:

    Ah, the benefits of karma. Rick Scott is getting his comeuppance, and I am smiling. Breach of contract against our public workers? Slicing 3% of their salaries to cover your own @ss is not in your best interest, Scotty.

    By all means, crawl back under the rock you came out of. And stay there.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Jim J, then ask for all your Republican legislators in Fl and DC that we stop paying for their insurance and retirement plans too. You have the nerve to further promote cuts for our teachers and all our public employees on the lower administrative tiers, but do not ask our Senators, representatives and judges to pay their own insurance!! Specially those GOP’s Tea Party ones that denied the basic to the tax payers that pay for theirs? What a scam! Go and complaint against all the tax breaks, incentives and exemption for multinationals, corporations and the wealthy as we have a budget crisis “for lack of revenue right now” and no so much for overspending. What slice of the GOP cake are you currently receiving Jim J? Maybe any of the listed in the following link?:
    Also I thank you for the right vote of the School Board majority with a no raise by now, for administrators as in all administrative positions pay rates are pretty high already.

  9. Jim J says:

    HA HA

    Guess you do not know anything – I am a Democrat and sick of all your bashing. Guess you are on the public dole and just cannot stand to think that you will have to pay for benefits like you neighbors who are working in the private sector.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    If your Ha and reply is directed to me Jim J. You just don’t know either a thing as though I am “still a registered Republican” I am sick of the extremism, greed, racism , protectionism of special interest and lies to achieve their their petty goals . Also I am not in anyone’s dole, but the honest money I make in my own investments not based in greed. For sure I am not blind and I see the demise of our American middle class and workers manipulated from within for the avaricious, petty profiteering of the one’s that control our government.

  11. William says:

    This is what you get when you vote a criminal into public office. A fair question to ask is: how many taxpayer dollars, which are desperately needed in other areas, must now be devoted to the legal challenges arising out of this Kochsucker’s overreach?

    Even if he were not a criminal, this slow-motion train wreck exposes the fallacy of voting a former CEO into a position of executive power. A corporation is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship by nature, and I’m getting the popcorn ready for the coming legislative session, with its veto-overriding possibilities. The legislature has the votes, and if the grumbling from Tallahassee is any indication, the momentum to bitch-slap skeletor into reality. This could get quite entertaining.

    What still escapes me is the “logic” that TeaBirchers cling to. They identify with a group which fought against the tyranny of the British, without noting the irony that said revolution was fought as much against the power of the corporation (the East India company) and central banking (the Bank of England) as King George III. So we honor the sacrifices of the colonists by voting a corporate crook into the governor’s mansion? The cognitive dissonance is staggering, and shows quite clearly the dire need for improvement to the education system.

    Sure would be nice if the Florida Constitution included a recall provision.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    A recall provision in the Florida Constitution is needed now.

  13. poor public employee says:

    i do pay for my insurance out of every pay and that is increasing by 22.00 a pay period and not to mention for that 15000 a year i put in a full 40 hrs every week so before assuming you should take the time to read that it was an increase to the premium not to mention with my plan i have a 2000 deductible do you realize out of 15000 for the year could you spare 2000 and can not afford to cover my children as the biweekly premium for an employee and child is more than i make in two weeks so please Jim J be assured im paying already for my insurance out of the small wage im given

  14. birdcheese says:

    realise florida salaries are way below the national average. compensation came with a benefits package to off-set low wages. with the steady rise of insurance, drugs and inflation with no cost of living increases, it is fooey to blame middle class working people for the trouble the rich, elite, have bestowed upon us.

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