The Florida Education Association on Monday filed a class action lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) and several administrators with oversight over a state retirement fund, alleging that they violated teachers’ existing contracts with an “unconstitutional” 3% pay cut imposed by the recently-passed budget.
In the suit, the FEA claims that the state made backdoor cuts to teachers’ salaries in the new budget by forcing them to begin paying 3% of their earnings into a retirement fund as a way to reduce the government’s obligation to pay into that pool. The suit argues that the change reneges on promises made in the current contracts, and is therefore illegal.
“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 in a statement posted to the FEA’s website. “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,” he added.
The fund, the Florida Retirement System, serves 655,000 active employees and provides benefits to over 219,000 retirees. According to the Miami Herald, employees haven’t directly paid into the system since 1974.
In its press release, the FEA — the state’s largest education union, which represents around 250,000 members — says that the state could ask future employees to contribute to the pension fund, but that they cannot “unilaterally” impose such changes on current employees.
Teachers have been crying foul over Scott’s budget cuts since shortly after he took office earlier this year. During his short tenure, Scott has moved to eliminate tenure for future teachers, and tie pay to performance levels. He also slashed around $1.35 billion in education spending in his first budget, which he signed in late May.