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BTU Joins Suit To Stop Forced Retirement Contributions

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MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – The Broward Teachers Union has joined a lawsuit from the Florida Education Association seeking to block a new state requirement forcing government workers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their retirement funds.

“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,” BTU president Pat Santeramo said in a statement.

In addition to the BTU, the Florida Police Benevolent Association also quickly joined the case.

The legislature passed the changes in the funding of the state employees’ requirements during the 2011 regular session.

The lawsuit listed 11 plaintiffs including teachers, school maintenance workers, sheriff’s deputies, a community college instructor, a county solid waste worker and public hospital employees.

The FEA said the change in the retirement contributions amounts to a 3 percent pay cut. The plaintiffs alleged the new law violates contract rights as well as a state constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to collective bargaining.

In addition, many of the state employees the forced contributions will impact haven’t seen raises in several years, even in the face of rising inflation and prices.

The current system used by the Florida Retirement Fund has been in use since 1974 when the legislature halted any payments.

The 1974 law said the rights of retirement system members are “contractual in nature” and “shall not be abridged in any way,” according to the News Service of Florida.

Still, Governor Rick Scott stood by the law and said it was good for the state of Florida.

“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.”

The law will currently take effect July 1 and FEA attorneys said the lawsuit seeks to set aside the money collected and return it with interest to workers if the challenge is successful.

The FEA said lawmakers could find other ways to make up the money if the lawsuit is upheld, including closing tax loopholes and fully collecting taxes on a goods sold over the Internet, but lawmakers rejected those ideas in the past.

The Florida Retirement Fund currently covers 655,000 active employees and 219,000 retirees.

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