PERS Update: Union Coalition Files Lawsuit

OEA, in coalition with other labor unions, filed a lawsuit against the retirement cuts handed down by the State Legislature earlier this year.

SB 1049 targeted working people, taking money out of our personal accounts to pay employers' pension obligations to retirees. In our case, James v. the State of Oregon, et al, public employees are asserting that the loss of retirement benefits violates the Constitution, is a breach of contract, and is an illegal taking without compensation.

OEA member Lisa Riegel, who works at Mt. Hood Community College, is one of the nine plaintiffs in the suit. She joins a Molalla school secretary, nurses from OHSU and Multnomah County, a Lebanon state employee, a Salem firefighter, a child welfare worker and a water mechanic in Portland, and a Multnomah County District Attorney.

Our case is simple. A promise is a promise. A contract is a contract.We were hired to do a job and receive a certain salary and benefits. We’ve kept up our end of the deal; the State is trying to break their promise.

Here’s a link to the news release.

We’ve done this before – and succeeded – using court cases to win back our hard-earned benefits. This lawsuit demonstrates the harm these retirement cuts would have in Oregon, as well as the strength we have when we stick together and fight back.

The legal battle will likely be long and expensive.

That’s the situation the State has put us in, attempting to breaking their promise. But we will see this through, all the way to the end. These cuts are wrong and we deserve better. We work hard for our students every single day and cannot be asked to shoulder the state’s debts.

In a country where retirement security has steadily eroded, where income inequality is skyrocketing, and where fewer and fewer people still have collective power on the job, our union remains strong. We will continue to raise wages and benefits, to build a better life for ourselves, our families and our communities.

Unfortunately, the challenges to our retirement benefits continue. Corporate interests are moving three ballot measures forward that would make additional cuts to our PERS retirement benefits.

This effort has been led by Tim Nesbitt, a former union leader who now draws a paycheck from corporate special interests. These same corporations have been fighting for years to blame unionized state employees for the state’s budget problems.

These cuts would be on top of and more extreme than SB 1049, which the legislature passed in June we are currently fighting in court. If enacted these ballot measures would:

  • Significantly reduce the money you can save for your own retirement through your PERS individual account program (IAP).
  • Ban PERS members from contributing to their Individual Retirement Account altogether. Instead, the corporate special interests propose that the state take all of that money to pay the state’s pension costs.
  • Eliminate exemptions for lower income workers, thus the cuts would hit low income public workers the hardest: bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors and other people who work hard every day.
  • Require the state to create unstable and risky 401(k) plans to replace pensions for new hires
  • Unlike SB 1049, these dramatic cuts would be permanent.

Corporate front groups are pushing to get these measures on the November 2020 ballot. They still need to gather over 88,000 signatures for each measure in order to qualify. If they do make it to the ballot, we will work together with our union partners and do everything in our power to stop them.

I believe we can beat back these attacks because we are stronger together in our union.

I also believe we can win because Oregonians believe in what we do, whether its educators preparing tomorrow’s leaders, public safety workers putting their lives on the line for us every day, or state and local employees providing services to some of our most vulnerable community members.

These ballot measures from big corporations are a slap in the face to everyone who has committed to a life in public service, and we will stand united against their cynical attempt to divide our community.