A judge Tuesday upheld one of Kasim Reed’s signature achievements as mayor of Atlanta – 2011’s landmark pension reform deal. Reed is now touting the ruling as a major victory for the city.
A group of city employees filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the pension deal was unconstitutional and the city illegally forced them to pay more towards their retirement benefits.
The judge rejected that and Reed said rightfully so.
“The city of Atlanta had every right to implement some of the most comprehensive pension reforms in the United States of America in order to preserve our pension commitments.”
Reed rehashed his view at the time of the deal. The recession was hitting Atlanta hard and the city was facing a $1.5 billion unfunded pension liability.
“Instead of having to make painful decisions, like more furloughs, more pay cuts, and more layoffs, we were able to invest in crime prevention, building the biggest police force in the history of the city of Atlanta,” said Reed.
He reeled off other benefits of the reform deal: more firefighters, no tax increases, a strong credit rating, and putting the city in a position to address its significant infrastructure backlog.
Meanwhile, union heads called the judge’s decision “disheartening” and said it sets a “dangerous precedent.”
Stephen Borders, president of the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union, said the city can now force pension changes unilaterally, without buy-in from workers.
“This administration or future administrations could see that as a cost-savings measure for the city and impose it whenever they want to with a piece of legislation,” said Borders.
Reed noted city council passed the reform deal unanimously and it had the support of union leaders as well.
But Borders contested that.
“The union leaders were told if they did not go along with this that the city would then freeze the pension and try to abolish it and that would be an even greater legal battle so they saw this as the lesser of two evils and their hand was forced,” said Borders.
Reed characterized the union’s objections as “Monday-morning quarterbacking.”
Since the lawsuit was filed, the mayor and union leaders have been on icy terms. As for improving relations, Reed said it’s not going to be him making the first move.
“I would like to see a thawing of it but it’s not going to come from me because I’m not the person that broke faith,” said Reed.”I have moved salaries as quickly as I responsibly could at a time when no other government was increasing employee salaries and what I got for it was a lawsuit.”
Union heads say they’re considering an appeal.