Jacksonville Fire Fighters Protect Pension and Save City Money
May 14, 2013 – A positive pension reform agreement has been reached in Jacksonville, Florida, between the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund and the City of Jacksonville, thanks to Jacksonville Local 122 leadership and steadfast efforts to ensure benefits are protected and proper procedure is followed.
“Led by Local 122 President Randy Wyse, the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters team never wavered from its multi-discipline approach – lobbying elected officials, keeping the public informed and building strategic relationships,” says IAFF 12th District Vice President Larry Osborne. “Throughout the long process, they were fully engaged and stayed on task, and that’s what ultimately brought about this victory.”
“It was a long fight, but we got the job done,” says Local 122 President Wyse. “Our goals were, in accordance with the 30-year agreement reached more than a decade ago, for the City to negotiate any changes to the pension with the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees and to protect our existing benefits. We accomplished both of those goals.”
The new agreement will save the City of Jacksonville $1.1 billion over the next 30 years while maintaining the level of benefits for fire fighters and police officers. As part of the agreement, the City will gradually reduce its contributions from 7.75 percent to 7 percent.
Current fire and police employees will eventually pay more into the pension, but only after the City grants employees a 3 percent raise, which makes up for the pay cut they took in 2010. Going forward, pension contribution increases will coincide with future raises with 50 percent going to the pension and 50 percent to the member. Pension contributions will cap for current employees at 9 percent.
“The added benefit here is that the City will have an incentive to give wage increases and current employees will not see a drop in their salaries because contributions will only occur after the raises,” says Wyse.
New hires will pay more into the pension from the beginning. Other limitations were also imposed regarding how long new hires must work to receive their full retirement benefits and what percentage of their salary they will receive upon retirement.
The history of this fight can be traced back to 1992 when the Fund Board of Trustees sued the City for failing to make mandatory contributions and misusing state premium tax revenues, among other things. After many years of disputes, the end result was a 30-year contract that will expire on September 30, 2030. The nuts and bolts of the contract requires the City to negotiate all future alterations to the pension plan with the Fund. In addition, for the next 30 years, benefits cannot be lowered, only increased.
However, in 2009, then-Mayor John Peyton claimed the City could not afford to continue to contribute long tern to the police and fire pension at the current rate and met with Local 122 to negotiate pensions. The mayor cited the Florida state statute that makes pensions a mandatory subject of bargaining. Local 22 refused, maintaining that the 30-year contract obligates the City to negotiate with the Fund Board of Trustees.
“The City would not listen, so that forced our hand. We filed a lawsuit in state court for the City’s failure to adhere to the 30-year agreement,” explains Wyse.
It was also around this time that Local 122 launched its “Truth About Pensions” web site. “This site was essential in getting our message out to the public and helped ensure that our side of the story was covered by the media with better accuracy,” says Local 122 Public Relations Director Mark Treglio.
The City relented and opened pension negotiations in 2010. An agreement was nearly reached, but it was not approved by the Jacksonville City Council before Peyton termed out and Jacksonville elected a new mayor, Alvin Brown, in July 2011.
“We were back to square one because Mayor Brown did not agree with Peyton’s plan and wanted to negotiate with us on the pension,” says Wyse. Local 122, once again, told the City administration it must negotiate with the Fund.
Jacksonville fire fighters filed a lawsuit against the City in federal court for not following the 30-year contract. This time, an agreement was finally reached.