N.J. unions sue Gov. Christie, state over pension law

New Jersey public employee unions, seeking to block a law reducing pension and health benefits, sued Gov. Chris Christie and other state officials Wednesday in federal court.

More than 20 unions and individuals were named in the lawsuit, according to federal court records in Trenton, N.J.

The law deprives workers of their due process rights by suspending pension adjustments, increasing employees' contributions, underfunding pensions, and delegating to pension committees an “unrestrained authority to reduce pension and change eligibility requirements,” according to a copy of the complaint on the New Jersey Education Association's website.

Mr. Christie signed the bill into law June 28, raising pension and health-care contributions for public workers, after urging lawmakers since September 2010 to approve measures to reduce a $53.9 billion deficit in the state pension system. The plan drew protests from teachers, firefighters and other public workers and was opposed by a majority of Democratic lawmakers.

The law “illegally takes away benefits that school employees and others have already earned through their service to the people of New Jersey,” Barbara Keshishian, president of the teachers' union, said in a statement on the union's website.

A copy of the complaint wasn't immediately available from the court.

The overhaul is aimed at restoring the state pension system, which has $74.7 billion in assets, to 80% funding in 30 years, up from the current 62%.

“Another lawsuit won't change the fact that the public employee pension system was on a collision course with collapse without the governor's and the Legislature's bipartisan intervention,” Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, said in a statement. “The union leadership is unaccountably oblivious to that. So, fine, file another lawsuit, keep your heads in the sand and ignore the problem. We will defend as necessary our pledge to fix the public employee pension system for all employees, former, present and future.”