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Unions blast retirement vote

Last modified: 9/23/2011 12:00:00 AM
The state's biggest unions pounced yesterday on a recent vote taken by the reconstituted New Hampshire Retirement System's board of trustees, saying it shows the board's lack of a labor majority will imperil public employees.

The budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature this summer changed the format of the 13-member board, cutting the number of public employee representatives from eight to four and increasing the number of public employer representatives from one to four.

In non-public session, the board voted last week to drop a lawsuit previously approved by the board's pro-union majority challenging the constitutionality of a portion of the retirement reform bill passed by the Legislature in June.

David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, called the vote 'an abhorrent misuse of power as board members.'

'They are on a slippery slope, and I would urge them to make their agenda public immediately, because it is clear their intent is not to protect the members and the funding status of the New Hampshire Retirement System,' Lang said in a statement.

The lawsuit had sought an immediate injunction to stop a section of the Legislature's reform package from taking effect. The section required that the assumed rate of return on investments remain unchanged over the next two years, instead of lowering it as the board had hoped, in order to prevent an increase in public employer contribution rates. The old board argued the Legislature could not tell it how to set rates.

Kim France, the board's interim executive director, said once the injunction was not granted, the new board had to decide whether to continue the lawsuit and leave the rates subject to further changes.

'They remain committed to a stable, consistent process,' France said.

A union coalition has filed a lawsuit on similar grounds in Merrimack County Superior Court. But union leaders released statements yesterday saying the trustees should also continue to challenge what they feel is the Legislature's usurpation of the board's power.

Rhonda Wesolowski, president of state chapter of the National Education Association, said 'the Legislature is meddling in the retirement system where they don't belong and the board is not challenging this.'

Mark MacKenzie, president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement that the board's job 'is to be aggressive in their approach to protecting the system.'

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who helped craft the Legislature's retirement reform package, said the makeup of the new board reflects 'the different tensions that are out there - the public, taxpayers, employers.'

'I think it was dominated by labor previously and now it's going to reflect all three legs of that stool,' Bradley said. 'Employers want to be able to offer attractive retirement packages to employees but they're also concerned about day-to-day costs.'

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)


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