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New Jersey Teachers' Union Sues to Stop Pension Cost Hikes

A New Jersey teachers' union is suing to halt a controversial law that increases pension and health-care costs for public workers, a measure that was backed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and top state Democrats.

The New Jersey Education Association was joined by a number of other public-employee labor organizations in filing the lawsuit.

Numerous states, citing budget shortfalls and concerns about long-term liabilities, have sought to bring pension and health-care costs under control, in many cases by asking public employees to chip in more. Earlier this year, Stateline reported that so far in 2011, nine states had increased required contributions for current employees and five states had raised them for new hires.

And in some states, like Florida, pension changes have drawn court challenges, in which similar objections to those cited in New Jersey have been put forward.

The NJEA alleges that the state law takes away promised benefits spelled out in existing contracts, specifically by eliminating cost-of-living adjustments that has been part of the pension formula for most public employees.

The lawsuit also claims that the law violates state and federal contract rights by changes it makes to health-insurance premiums and requiring substantially larger pension contributions from employees, among other objections.

"This lawsuit is about basic fairness and justice," NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said in a statement. "Governor Christie and the legislature passed a law which illegally takes away benefits that school employees and others have already earned through their service to the people of New Jersey."

New Jersey lawmakers approved the law this summer over strong objections of unions, who protested in the streets and through a public-relations blitz criticizing not only Christie, but also Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat, whose party controls both legislative chambers.

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