Fort Worth Firefighters To Sue City Over Benefit Cuts

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The Fort Worth firefighters union announced plans Tuesday to file a lawsuit against the City Council over a series benefit cuts that would scale back retirement benefits for new hires.

The union claims the cuts represent a breach of contract and a violation of the Texas constitution.

From the Star-Telegram:

The president of the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters said Tuesday night that the group plans to move forward with a lawsuit against the city over the benefit reductions that the City Council approved by a 6-3 vote.

“When these pension changes go into effect, it will be a taking. We will be joining the police officers in that federal suit,” said Jim Tate, the association’s president. The group must vote on filing the lawsuit, Tate said.

The cuts will affect firefighters hired before Jan. 10, 2015, and include reducing the multiplier used to calculate benefits from 3 percent to 2.5 percent, using the high five years instead of three years to determine retirement pay, and eliminating overtime that is not built into a firefighter’s salary from calculations.

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The lawsuit accuses the city of contract impairment, violation of due process, unlawful taking of property, and violating the U.S. and Texas constitutions in reducing pension benefits for future service. The council reduced the multiplier used to calculate benefits, raised the number of years for retirement pay and eliminated overtime from calculations.

City Manager David Cooke said that the situation between the two groups is not “combative” but that “we both agreed to let the courts decide who is right.”

“One of the challenges certainly is we are in litigation with the police over our ability to do what we already did. The firefighters have simply said they are going to join the police and see what the courts will actually decide,” Cooke said.

City Council members, who passed the benefit cuts by a 6-3 vote, weighed in on both sides of the issue. From the Star-Telegram:

“It does put the fire on par with the rest of our employees, and going forward this is all going to get resolved in federal court. We believe that putting them in the same plan with the rest of our employees is the proper thing to do at this time,” said Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, who voted for the reductions.

Council members Jungus Jordan, Ann Zadeh and Kelly Allen Gray voted against the changes.

“On the vote to make changes for new hires, it was a little easier for me. But making changes to people who already have pensions they are depending on in place, that is a little bit harder for me to do,” Zadeh said.

Tate said the reductions will force firefighters to retire later to maintain their current benefits. The current average retirement age is 59, he said, but he expects that to jump into the 70s.

“I feel bad not only for the firefighters but for the citizens of this city that the interest of the wealthy business owners takes precedence over the citizens who are going to be served by these elderly firefighters in the years to come,” Tate said.

Union members still must vote to approve the lawsuit.

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