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Public employees unions ask court to block pension reforms

State House Bureau Chief

June 29. 2011 1:23PM

CONCORD - Public workers unions joined the legal battle over pension reform Wednesday, asking a court to block state law that takes an extra 2 percent and more of their pay.

One day after the New Hampshire Retirement System board voted to seek a court opinion on the pension revisions that became law at midnight, unions went for a restraining order that would bar its implementation.

Attorney Glenn Milner argued in requesting the court order that quick action is the only way to prevent a permanent loss to workers.

The new law requires workers to make higher pension contributions at the same time it bars NHRS board from raising rates for employers for another two years. The higher worker rates apply to all NHRS members, those newly hired and those with decades of service.

With accompanying cuts in benefits, Milner said, new workers 'will work longer, get less and pay more.'

Milner wants the court to block collection of the higher rates from workers until a hearing on the complete motion can be held.

He filed his action on behalf 50,000 workers who are members of NEA-NH, the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Police Association, and the State Employees Association SEIU Local 1984.

Union officials said they tried to explain problems with the reform package but Republicans who control the Legislature would not listen.

Senate President Peter Bragdon said that he had expected court action over the bill, but he is confident it will be upheld.

'I think that based on the legal advice we had, we're on sound footing. This is about the long-term viability of the system,' Bragdon said.

David Lang, president of the PFFNH, said lawmakers shifted onto workers decades of poor decisions they made about NHRS finances.

The bill blocks changes for employers rates until 2014, even though a NHRS vote this month to lower its expected earnings figure has created a larger deficit. Instead, rates that employers pay have to be based on five-year old data.

By barring an immediate rate hike for cities, towns and school districts, Lang said, 'This Legislature has created a hole that will be so big that eventually taxpayers will fall in.'

Milner said the court action is just the first step in litigation over pension cuts and vested worker rights.

'All this would have been avoided had they listened to workers,' SEA president Diana Lacey said.

Pamela Walsh, Gov. John Lynch's deputy chief of staff, said the state will defend the reforms now that they are in law.

'I think we are all aware that making changes for existing employees raises legal issues, which is why the governor had proposed retirement reforms that apply only to new employees,' Walsh said.

On Tuesday, the NHRS board voted 7-5 to go to court for an opinion on whether the Legislature is allowed under the constitution to block them from acting in the best interest of NHRS finances.

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