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Teachers' union to sue over new pension law

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Andy Ford, FEA President

By Sascha Cordner

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Tallahassee, FL – A three-percent pension contribution into state employees' retirement plan has spurred a statewide teachers' union to take legal action against several top officials, including the Governor and the Attorney General. As Sascha Cordner reports, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit Monday against the legislature's passing and the Governor's signing legislation the association calls unconstitutional.

Andy Ford is the President of the FEA, short for the Florida Education Association. He explains the terms of the lawsuit filed on Monday.

"The lawsuit asserts that the Legislature enacted legislation that was unconstitutional when that body required that three-percent of the salaries of active members of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) be taken from such employees to serve as 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."

The suit is actually a class action brought by 11 different people. It includes, not only teachers and school employees, but also sheriff's deputies, a county solid waste worker, and public hospital employees.

Their attorney in the suit is Ron Meyer, who says the suit claims the Legislature acted unconstitutionally when contractual promises were broken with the legislation.

"As a matter of policy as President Ford has mentioned, the state of Florida has the absolute right if it chooses to make pension plans contributory, it can do that, it can do that prospectively, but it can't do that by breaking the covenant, the contracts, that it has made with current participants in the system. Those are entitled to be enforced we believe."

Technically, the suit is against Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Governor, Florida's Chief Financial Officer, and the Secretary of the Department of Management Services. Jack Miles, the DMS Secretary, runs the agency that oversees the funds. Bondi and Scott are members of the State Board of Administration, which is responsible for overseeing the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund, or the retirement plan the employees would be required to pay into.

Scott released a statement, saying the three-percent employee retirement contribution is only a small percentage. He adds asking state employees to pay that into their pensions is not only common sense, but it's fair to those who already have to pay into their own retirement and do not have government jobs. Scott says he has confidence the law will stand up in court.

An injunction filed by the Florida Education Association requested until the lawsuit is settled, the court put the money collected from the three-percent contribution into an account that would accrue interest. If the FEA wins and the court agrees, public workers would be able to recover the money with interest.