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Webster Groves, Missouri Fire Fighters Win Back Defined Benefit Plan

August 26, 2013 – It took dedication and a lot of hard work, but Webster Groves, Missouri, fire fighters convinced the City Council to switch all city employees back to a defined benefit retirement plan.

This local pension victory comes as elected officials in many states and municipalities are trying to ditch defined benefit plans in favor of weaker retirement options such as 401(k)s and cash balance plans.

By unanimous vote, the city council approved a resolution to discontinue the defined contribution plan that it has had for 15 years through the International City Management Association (ICMA) and replace it with a defined benefit plan.

Webster Groves fire fighters are represented by the Professional Fire Fighters of Missouri Local 2665.

“This is a tremendous victory for our members there,” says Local 2665 4th District Vice President Kurt Becker. “They were experiencing a lot of turnover because fire fighters were taking jobs in other departments with better pensions. Now, with the promise of a more financially stable retirement, experienced fire fighters will remain in Webster Groves.”

In 1998, ICMA pitched the defined contribution plan to the City of Webster Groves. Despite already having a healthy defined benefit plan in place, the City decided to make the switch anyway.

“This move was especially bad for fire fighters because we do not pay into social security,” explains Webster Groves Shop Steward Jason Simpson. “It is nearly impossible to secure enough money for retirement with a 401(K)-style plan. As a result, we had way too many guys getting stuck working past a safe age because they did not believe they could afford to retire.”

A few years ago the Local 2665 leadership began working with the Webster Groves fire fighters to devise a way to go back to a defined benefit plan. The strategy included helping to elect fire fighter friendly city council members and community outreach.

Then, many cities across Missouri began adopting defined benefit plans through the Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System (LAGERS) [http://www.molagers.org/], a state government-created provider of retirement, disability and survivor benefits.

The Webster Groves fire fighters put in a formal request with the City Council to ask LAGERS to do a financial and actuarial analysis which was approved without argument. The analysis compared the cost of the current plan versus the cost of the two plans LAGERS offers.

The analysis concluded that the City could switch to the LAGERS L-6 plan with little change to the budget. The L-6 plan requires both the City and its employees to contribute into the plan and gives a 2 percent multiplier for each year of service for those vested into the plan.

After the city employees and the City Council approved the change, all current employees will now get credit for years of service.
Meanwhile, the fire fighters and the rest of the City employees are in the process of upgrading to the L-11 plan which has a 2.5 percent multiplier. But because that would cost more money, they must get voter approval to increase the pension tax to fund the upgrade. The tax issue is expected to be on the November ballot.


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