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Judges tells state that cuts to state worker benefits broke contract

The decision to cut state and local government workers pay 3 percent and shift the money to the state’s pension fund broke the state’s contract with employees, a Leon County circuit judge told lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature on Wednesday.

But was the move illegal? That’s the question Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford left undecided as she ended the day-long hearing on the lawsuit brought by the Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions.

The unions sued the state for changing the rules of the game on pensions for current employees when it cut worker salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for retirement benefits, and shifted the money into the Florida Retirement System to save the state $1 billion during the last legislative session.

The state argues that it was entitled to make the changes, which it called “modifications,” under its budgetary authority and denies it violated the collective bargaining rights of state workers when it made the changes without renegotiating employee contracts.

Fulford wasn’t buying it. “The more you work, the longer there is a reduction in the COLA,’’ she said. Read more here.