The Florida Education Associate announced today it has filed a class action lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott and other trustess of the state retirement plan for unconstitutionally imposing a 3 percent pay cut on teachers to balance the budget.
The lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court on behalf of 11 workers from across the state, including two nurses and a social worker in Miami Dade County, a custodian in Madison County, and a social studies teacher in Hillsborough County. The Police Benevolent Association, the largest union of law enforcement in the state, also joined the lawsuit. The workers are asking the court to sequester the more than $1 billion the state saves from reducing teacher pay 3 percent and ending the cost of living increase on their retirement benefits while the case moves through the judicial system.
"This pay cut was used by legislative leadership to make up a budget shortfall on the backs of teachers, law-enforcement officers, firefighters and other state workers," said FEA President Andy Ford. "It is essentially an income tax levied only on workers belonging to the Florida Retirement System. It's unfair – and it breaks promises made to these employees when they chose to work to improve our state."
The lawsuit alleges that the state violated its contractual obligation to state workers when it shifted money from worker pay to replace some of the state's obligation to pay into the Florida Retirement System.The union says that state law expressly provides that the FRS is one in which employees do not have to contribute part of their salaries and the shift impairs those contractual rights.
Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators argued the change was needed to bring state retirement accounts in line with the private sector, which require workers to contribute into their retirment accounts but the money was not used to enhance employee benefits but to relieve the budget deficit. Florida was the only state that still had not negotiated a employee contribution as part of its retirement plan.
The Broward Teachers Union, which joined the lawsuit, called the legislature's labeling the pay cut a retirement contribution "a false premise."
"Florida's leaders talk ad nauseam about the need to cut taxes for businesses and the state's wealthiest residents and yet, when it comes to our police officers, firefighters and teachers, they didn't even blink an eye when imposing this income tax increase," said BTU President Pat Santeramo Santeramo.
The FRS collects retirement money for more than 655,000 active employees throughout the state and provides benefits to 219,000 retirees. Workers have not paid into the plan since 1974.
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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