Mayor tries to sell police, fire unions on pension changes

Mayor Lenny Curry is getting push back from Jacksonville police and firefighter unions on a plan to increase employee contributions to existing pensions and require new employees to enter a 401k retirement plan instead of a pension.

The closing of the pensions to new city employees and increased contributions are part of plan voters approved in the August primary that will dedicate revenue from a 30-year, half-cent sales tax to paying off the existing $2.7 billion pension deficit.

The mayor’s proposal to the International Association of Firefighters calls for a 2 percent lump-sum payout next year to make up for previous pay cuts and lack of salary increases, then a 12.5 percent salary increase over the next three years.

The union represents nearly 1,400 fire and rescue employees of the city. Its president said they will review the proposal, but he doesn't see the 401k plan working for them.

"First off, I'm glad it's a proposal. Nine years we've been going through this, and we're glad we're finally here. We will vet that proposal," Randy Wyse said. "It is unheard of in the public safety world to hear something like that, for that to be on the table. So that is something we will have to look at. We're looking forward to having a great discussion about it and that we come to a resolution quickly."

DOCUMENT: Jacksonville Association of Firefighters letter on pension changes

Officers who attended Curry's presentation Friday afternoon at the Fraternal Order of Police hall said the plan would be unfair to employees. FOP President Steve Zona wouldn't go that far.

"You know how it works. You know how, when you get the initial proposal, you negotiate with them and get back to your members," Zona said.

Curry called pension plans a dinosaur, saying they that old pension plans will not work, saying that is slightly different than what was offered to general city employees. As for the argument that his defined contribution plan not being acceptable to firefighters. The mayor said this is just a start.

Curry said the offer to the firefighters is slightly different than what was offered to other Jacksonville workers, and  city contributions to the 401k will be generous, and the plan he laid out Friday is a place to start the discussion.

"We are not going to get stuck in the failure of other cities, stuck in old tired arguments what can't work and what won't work," Curry said. "We are absolutely putting together, are offering today a defined contribution plan (that) will attract people. Look there's a negotiation that's going to happen here. That's the way collective bargaining works."

Fire union officials say their jobs and that of police are different than most.  They are hazardous-pay jobs and they do not contribute to or receive Social Security. That is why they are pushing for a regular pension or a mixture of both.

The unions will prepare counter offers, and the negotiations proceed from there.

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