Workers Union Files Lawsuit Against State Over Benefits Change

Workers Union Files Lawsuit Against State Over Benefits Change

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Public Employees Association and five unnamed state workers are suing the state, trying to block a state law changing the way state employees could use their sick leave at retirement.

The lawsuit trying to block enactment of House Bill 213 was filed Wednesday in Third District Court was on behalf of state employees.

The bill caps sick leave credits for 25,000 state employees, who can use the credits at retirement to pay off their medical and insurance premiums, but changes the way the credits can be used.

Currently, public employees can do two things with unused sick leave when they retire: convert each eight-hour block into one month of health insurance, or take up to 25 percent of the total as a one-time payout.

Under the bill, employees could still use the leave to pay for insurance, but only at a dollar-for-dollar rate. That means if an employee is earning $20 per hour, they'll only get credit for $160 for that eight-hour period -- far less than the cost of one month of health insurance.

The cash-out option will no longer exist. Instead, the bill forces employees to pay 25 percent of their accumulated sick leave into a 401k account.

The change goes into effect Jan. 1, 2006, and affects benefits for people retiring after that date. Gov. Jon Huntsman signed the bill March 1.

"State employees have forgone substantially better employment opportunities in the local government and in the private sector, in reliance upon the treatment of their unused sick leave," the lawsuit states. "The State of Utah now seeks to change the rules."

The Utah Attorney General's office hadn't seen the lawsuit as of Thursday and declined comment, spokesman Paul Murphy said.

One angry state employee also is calling for a strike the week of July 25. But association Director Audry Wood e-mailed a letter to state employees urging them to disregard the call, saying it would be counterproductive and could be grounds for firing.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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