|Posted by Anne Siren on December 14, 2012 at 2:20 PM|
Oakland Park – City firefighters will work longer and realize pension cuts if their union ratifies a contract approved by the city commission. Although pension reform was described as “obviously the big elephant in the room, the two sides also tried to reach agreement on wages and paid time off (PTO).
After hours of discussion, commissioners reached a compromise on the pension issue. They approved a minimum retirement age of 52 with 55 the norm and they set the maximum pension at 70 percent of salary. Commissioners Jed Shank and Suzanne Boisvenue voted no.
The city proposed no changes for those within seven years of retirement.
The current pension plan allows a 42-year-old employee with 20 years of service to retire with 70 percent of salary, a situation Bill Underwood, the city’s financial services director, called “unsustainable.”
The union offered to raise the minimum retirement age from 42 to 48 and to reduce the maximum pension from the current 85 percent, to 75 percent of salary. The city proposal called for a retirement age of 52 for those with 25 years on the job and 55 for those with at least 10 years of service with a pension max of 65 percent of salary.
The commission was also asked to lift a three-year wage freeze. Slade Bruce, union vice president and a local firefighter, said the department is “demoralized.” Staff has decreased by 20 percent since 2007. A wage freeze has been in effect since 2009.
Commissioners approved a one percent wage increase for one year, less than the union’s request for a three-year contract. John McNamara, president of Local 3080, said Oakland Park is at the bottom of the salary range in the county.
Commissioners also agreed to $750 a year in educational incentives and a PTO plan that combines sick leave, vacation leave and longevity pay and allows an employee to schedule time off for personal needs.
Commissioner Boisvenue objected to the PTO plan saying “firefighters/paramedics have a job uniquely different from anyone. They work 24-hour shifts and are exposed to blood, needles, fumes.” Other employees she noted sit behind a desk and are not exposed to such dangers.
Commissioner Shari McCartney said the commission had no choice but to deal with the issues. “We need to make choices for the solvency of the city, but do so respectfully.”
Commissioner Shank said he was disappointed at the length and cost of negotiations, faulting both sides.