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Judge rejects union request to segregate employee pension payments

Saying unions were requesting a "drastic remedy which should be granted only sparingly," Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford rejected a union request to segregate public employees' 3 percent pension contributions from the state's retirement fund. A new law requring the payments goes into effect today.

Fulford issued her ruling late Thursday. The Florida Education Association is suing Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials, arguing the payments are unlawful and unconstitutional.  The Florida Police Benevolent Association and the SEIU Florida Public Service Union joined the teachers in the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the unions asked Fulford Thursday to put the 3 percent payments in an interest-bearing escrow account as the case works its way through the courts, saying there was no clear mechanism for returning the money to employees if the unions prevail.

But in her eight-page opinion, Fulford said the unions failed to meet all requirements of a four-part test for determining if the injunction was warranted. Specifically, Fulford said the unions suffer no irreparable harm if the money is put in the larger retirement fund and a legal remedy exists for returning the money if necessary.

"This will not stop us from fighting to make Governor Rick Scott and legislative leaders live up to the promises made to our teachers, law-enforcemtn officers, firefight5ers and other employees," said FEA president Andy Ford in a prepared statement. "They created a budget deficit by giving tax breaks to corporate special interests and then tried to solve their problem on the bakcs of Florida's working families."

FEA attorney Ron Meyer called the ruling a "minor setback" that "cannot be viewed as a determination that our claims are not just."

"This hearing is only the frist battle in what will be a long legal war against this anti-worker legislation," said Alphonso Mayfiled, president of the SEIU Florida Public Service Workers Union. "Our focus remains on trying to voerturn this unconstitutional income tax on public employees."

A trial is set for Oct. 26.