Oregon Supreme Court Protects PERS Benefits

For over two decades Greg Hartman has represented a coalition of public sector labor unions in protecting the rights of members under Oregon’s public employee retirement system. This representation has involved not only litigation but multiple appearances before the Oregon legislature as well as before the Public Employee Retirement Board. Greg has handled several cases which have resulted in billions of dollars of saved benefits for members of the Public Employee Retirement System. He was lead counsel in the case Strunk et al. v. Public Employee Retirement Board et al., in which the Oregon Supreme Court held a portions of the 2003 reform legislation were unconstitutional, thereby reinstating over $2 billion of benefits for PERS members.

Most recently Greg, along with partner Aruna Masih, pursued legal challenges to the 2013 changes to PERS benefits in the case of Moro et. al. v. State of Oregon et. al. before the Oregon Supreme Court. On April 30, 2015, the Oregon Supreme Court held that most of the changes to PERS cost-of -living adjustment (COLA) made by the 2013 legislature, including those that were part of the “Grand Bargain,” unconstitutionally impaired PERS members’ contract rights.

At issue in the Moro case was $5.3 billion dollars in benefits for PERS members and retirees. The Supreme Court’s decision finding the SB 822 and SB 861 reductions to COLA unconstitutional for benefits earned before the effective dates of the changes means that over $4 billion of the $5.3 billion in benefits at issue have been protected. This represents a significant victory for PERS retirees and members.

The court affirmed the changes to the 1991 (SB 656) and 1995 (HB 3349) income tax offsets for out of state retirees and to COLA for benefits that members earn on or after the effective dates of SB 822 (May 6, 2013) and SB 861 (October 8, 2013). A complete copy of the Supreme Court’s decision can be found through the link to the pleadings on our PERS Litigation page.

Oregon Taxpayers United

Greg Hartman was lead counsel for the Oregon Education Association in a lawsuit against Oregon Taxpayers United as well as Oregon Taxpayers United Education Foundation, two organizations founded and operated by Bill Sizemore. After a three-week jury trial a Multnomah County jury found those defendants liable for racketeering as a result of which a judgment was ultimately entered against those defendant organizations in an amount in excess of $3 million. In subsequent litigation Bill Sizemore has been found in contempt in four separate proceedings for failing to abide by the orders of the court. Most importantly this case revealed the realities of paid signature gathering and served as the jumping off point for several legislative reforms which have limited the abuses in the initiative process.

Labor Arbitration Awards Union Members Over $3M in Severance Benefits

In the fall of 1999 Smurfit Newsprint sold its paper mill in Newberg, Oregon to Southeast Paper. The new employer retained virtually all of the union employees and assumed the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement. Most union employees lost no work as a result of the transfer of ownership. Nonetheless a grievance was filed against Smurfit Newsprint arguing that union employees were entitled to their severance payment under the collective bargaining agreement. Greg Hartman handled the arbitration in which the arbitrator agreed and awarded union members in excess of $3 million of severance benefits. With the help of Michael Morris, that arbitration award was successfully defended in both federal district court as well as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.