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 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 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.
Ford acknowledged that this action is "making ourselves a target" of House and Senate leaders but doing the right thing "trumps the fear of legislative payback."
He said this is "the first in what is likely to be a series of judicial challenges to some of the reckless legislation that was dreamed up by legislative leaders and heartily endorsed by our governor."
FEA attorney Ron Meyer said the union is also planning to file a lawsuit against Senate Bill 736, known as the "Student Success Act," which Meyer said "is anything but a student success act. It would be a fair statemtn to say we will be litigating provisions of that act."
Meyer said they are also considering a lawsuit against the proposed constitutional amendment eliminating the "no-aid" provision of the state Constitution "which will certainly facilitate expansion of school vouchers and there are others as well."
Here's the release:
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit today in Circuit Court in Tallahassee seeking to stop the 3 percent pay cut on teachers, school employees and other workers imposed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
The lawsuit asserts that the Legislature enacted legislation that was unconstitutional when that body required that 3 percent of the salaries of active members of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) be taken from such employees to serve as “contributions” toward their retirement benefits. The lawsuit further contends that the actions by the Legislature to reduce the cost-of-living benefits of those employees were also unconstitutional.
“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.
“While the state of Florida may make the policy decision to ask future employees to contribute to their retirement, it may not unilaterally change the covenant it made with current employees,” Ford said.
The lawsuit alleges that Florida law expressly provides that the Florida Retirement System is one in which employees do not have to contribute part of their salaries and describes that as a contractual obligation of the State. The suit claims that the Legislature’s action unconstitutionally impairs those contractual rights.
The FRS collects retirement money for more that 900 state and local government employers in the state, covering 655,000 active employee members and providing benefits to 219,000 retired members. It has been a non-contributory plan since 1974.
The lawsuit names Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and John Miles, secretary of the Department of Management Services, as defendants in the lawsuit. Scott, Atwater and Bondi are the members of the State Board of Administration that is responsible for overseeing the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund and Miles runs the agency that oversees the fund.
Attorney Ron Meyer will be requesting the court to segregate the money it collects from the 3 percent pay cuts and place it in an interest bearing account until the lawsuit is fully settled. If the court agrees with the claims, teachers, school employees and other public workers would receive their money back with interest.
Ford said he was fully aware that FEA risked incurring the wrath of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and other top legislative leaders and that retribution toward the union and its members could be in the offing.
“This past legislative session, FEA was fully in the crosshairs of legislative leaders with SB 736, which will upend the teaching profession, massive budget cuts to public education and a spate of bills designed to put our union, and other public-sector unions, out of business,” Ford said. “But the importance of doing the right thing and protecting the constitutional rights of our members trumps the fears of legislative payback.”
All materials filed this morning are available (or will be soon) at http://www.meyerbrookslaw.com/Litigation.htm.
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational support professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.
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