Baton Rouge’s firefighters are in a standoff with the city government over a retirement plan that would make the firefighters’ minimum age to receive full retirement 50.
The Metro Council, which has to approve the revamped retirement plan, has deferred action on it twice now. On Wednesday, a vote to approve the retirement plan failed and council members said they would not approve it until the city-parish leaders met with the fire union.
Shane Spillman, the head of the fire union, said the minimum retirement age of 50 will hurt young firefighters who start working when they are 18 years old. He said the age requirement will force them to work extra years for a full retirement without receiving additional benefits.
William Daniel, the city-parish’s chief administrative officer, rebutted Spillman’s claims. He said the retirement changes will only affect new hires and that employees would still get extra benefits for the years they worked.
Daniel also noted that the Fire Department has not hired an 18 year old since 2007 and that they have only hired a few 19 year olds in the past several years.
The disagreement stems from an overhaul of the city-parish’s pay scale, which the Metro Council approved in March. All city-parish employees received pay raises of at least 2 percent, which the firefighters, police officers and Department of Public Works employees had spent years pushing for.
The pay raise was only part of the revisions to the pay structure, though. The retirement changes were another component.
Daniel said the fire union knew when they agreed to the pay plan changes that their retirement system was going to change, even though it was not in their contracts.
“When we put this together, we did it on the good faith that it would be approved,” Daniel told the Metro Council at the June 10 meeting. “…They want to change the game after the fact.”
Spillman asked the Metro Council at both meetings not to approve the retirement changes until he had time to meet with the city-parish leaders. He said the firefighters never agreed to go along with the retirement changes.
“We’ve objected to this since day one,” he said.
The Metro Council members deferred approving the retirement plan on June 10 and asked Daniel to meet with the firefighters before the June 24 meeting.
Spillman told the Metro Council on Wednesday that he had asked to meet with the city-parish and never heard back.
Daniel the city-parish crunched the numbers and determined that the city-parish could not afford to change the retirement system to the plan the firefighters wanted. He said the city-parish would have to change the retirement plan for all city employees if they gave into the firefighters.
Doing so would cost the city-parish an extra $95 million in unfunded liability, which Daniel said the city-parish cannot afford.
Still, the Metro Council members said they wanted Daniel to meet with the fire union before they approved the retirement changes.
“My vote to defer was that you got with the union to once again discuss what their issues were,” said Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel. “…It’s somewhat disrespectful to not have a meeting.”
Daniel said that the city-parish and fire union were “way too far apart” on the retirement plan. He said after the meeting that he plans to meet with Spillman before the next Metro Council meeting in late July.