Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Educators win major pension victory -- in Florida

Hooray for Florida's educators and public employees. Thanks to a lawsuit filed last year by the Florida Education Association, changes made by the legislature to the public employee pension system have been blocked.

TALLAHASSEE – Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford ruled today in favor of the Florida Education Association in its lawsuit on public employees’ mandatory pension “contribution.”

Last year, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the 3 percent tax on teachers, school employees and other workers imposed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Did you catch that? Legislators imposed a "tax" on public employees in the form of an increased contribution to their pension system. A public employment "tax."

I guess conservative lawmakers in Florida found a tax they could love.

FEA President Andy Ford hailed the decision as a significant victory for public employees, but as importantly, for the rule of law in our society.

“The judge’s ruling confirms that the Florida Constitution requires the state to live up to its promises, including those made to the public workers by the state itself,” Ford said.

Florida law has provided for nearly four decades that pension rights are contractual rights that may not be ignored or abridged. If the Legislature determines that changes to the pension system are desirable, it must do so prospectively for employees who come to work after a change in the law. Employees should not dedicate their livelihoods to public service with a contractual expectation of retirement benefits only to have that expectation wrongly taken from them.

Isn't this exactly what South Carolina's lawmakers are trying to do now, to change the retirement system and raise the rates charged to public employees?

I reckon we shouldn't get excited, though: South Carolina lawmakers abide by their own view of the law (which is, we make the law, we can unmake the law, now get back to work).

Ron Meyer, the lead attorney in bringing the challenge, argued to the court that there were three separate constitutional provisions that prohibit the state from taking away employees’ right to a non-contributory retirement system containing a cost-of-living provision. The court found that stripping workers of the contractually provided benefits constitutes an unlawful impairment of the obligations of contract, an action which is prohibited by the Constitution.

“We are pleased by today’s decision. It once again will stop the Florida Legislature from overstepping its authority by ignoring the state’s constitution,” Ford said. “We urge the governor and leaders in the Legislature to embrace this decision and abide by the judge’s ruling. If they decide to prolong this case with an appeal, FEA is prepared to continue fighting for the rights of middle-class families who make our state a better place.”

Yet one more reason why educators in South Carolina would benefit from.... well, maybe now's not the time. A lot of them would have to ask their husbands, and that's usually the end of that.

Still, it doesn't hurt to watch "Norma Rae" again.

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