City, union still far apart in pension changes

Jacksonville already at impasse with police, firefighters unions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city of Jacksonville has reached an impasse over pension reform in talks with unions representing its police and firefighters, but negotiators hope to have more success with the union representing 1,900 other city employees.

The mayor's office is looking to make major cuts in pension contributions to keep the budget in check. Its offer to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees calls for a $99,999 cap on annual benefits, increase the employee contribution from 8 percent to 12 percent, eliminate cost-of-living increases and institute a minimum retirement age of 62.

At a bargaining session on Wednesday, AFSCME agreed to the benefits cap, but rejected the other changes to the existing pension package.

City employee Dianne Blount is a member of the union's bargaining team.

"I have not had a raise since 2007. Then, in 2010, we took a 2 percent cut. And now they are asking for more cuts throughout the time we are working with the city," said Blount. "And then when you retire, its still going to be cut. Taking away the COLA will put you at a welfare check instead of a retirement."

The city's lead negotiator says at least both sides have their cards on the table and they can begin talking.

"Everything will be considered," said city labor negotiator Derel Chatmon. "I think the most important part of negotiations is dealing with the perspective of the other side and dealing with once with it comes."

In the middle of Wednesday's talks, Mayor Alvin Brown stopped in to says he is watching closely what happens.

"I am hoping we come to an agreement," Brown said. "I am hoping at the end of the day, we do what is right for the city."

Negotiations with both the police and fire unions have broken off, as the city maintains it can negotiate pension changes with the unions, but the Fraternal Order of Police and Jacksonville Association of Firefighters say the pension needs to be worked out with the independent Fire and Police Pension Fund. The city maintains the pension fund does not have legal authority to negotiate benefits and has asked a special magistrate to get involved.

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