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Labor leaders challenge proposed benefits reductions

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PROVIDENCE – Labor leaders will fight the proposed overhaul of the state pension system at the Statehouse and in court if measures in the bill to roll back benefits for workers and retirees are not changed, Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee said at a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday morning.

If passed as drafted, Nee anticipates separate lawsuits against the state from current and retired workers.

He said his union objected to parts of the bill that would raise the retirement age, freeze cost of living increases for retirees and push independent municipal pension systems to change their pension systems by the end of 2012.

“This is the first time in our state benefit reductions have happened to people who are retired,” Nee said. “I expect the final disposition will end up in court.”

Nee joined pension reform architects Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo at the Chamber breakfast - the first public event to discuss pension reform after the proposal was introduced Tuesday.

Chafee, who pushed to include measures to deal with the 36 municipal pension plans outside the state system, said he feared those parts of the bill are the most vulnerable to being changed or cut out by lawmakers.

Raimondo said she will “vigorously” oppose any efforts to “water down” the bill.

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