FORT WORTH –– The union representing more than 500 Fort Worth firefighters has sued the city to protect their members' pension plan.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Tarrant County District Court, says the city offered a contract that was shot down by every member of the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association and refused to negotiate beyond it.
The city faces a roughly $1 billion pension liability. After 15 months of negotiations, the City Council recently approved changes in fire fighter pensions to reduce that liability.
Fire Fighters Association President Jim Tate released a statement Wednesday saying the city put a “disingenuous take it or leave it contract on the table.” It left the union with two choices: sign off on the offer to take it to court.
He says his members voted 511 to zero to reject the city’s offer and take the discussions to the courtroom. Fire fighters want the court to break the collective bargaining impasse by imposing wages and working conditions.
The union had offered to increase their own contributions to their retirement, but the city rejected that plan. The city also shot down union efforts to hire an independent arbitrator to mediate the conflict dispute.
Instead, the City Council approved a resolution that removed overtime from pension calculations and raised the amount each pension is based on from an average of the employee's three highest salaried years to five.
The council also cut the multiplier number used to calculate pension benefits. Mayor Betsy Price issued a statement late Wednesday, calling the situation "unfortunate" and that "Fort Worth faces significant fiscal challenges in delivering essential city services to neighborhoods."
She continued, "The unfunded liability in the city's pension fund is a serious and lingering threat. You don't have to look further than Detroit to see the serious implications of this issue. We simply must continue to take a stand when it comes to protecting taxpayers and preserving the health of the city's pension fund for our retirees. I believe the pension plan can remain competitive while also being sustainable and affordable."
The Fort Worth Police Department has been in a fight with the city since Oct. 2012 over changes to its pension plan, which, like the contract proposed to firefighters, was meat to ease the $750 million pension liability the city was on the hook for.