The city’s firefighters are taking the legal battle over pension reductions to the next level, appealing their case to the 2nd Court of Appeals on Tuesday.
“It’s unfortunate and disingenuous for the city to seek court action to undermine firefighter collective bargaining rights after this issue was settled at the ballot box. Our firefighters’ money and the City’s money could obviously be put to better use,” association President Jim Tate said in a statement.
Members of the Fort Worth Fire Fighters Association voted unanimously to file the appeal.
The city did not have a statement because of the pending litigation, city spokesman Bill Begley said.
Earlier in June, state District Judge David L. Evans refused to impose the firefighters’ terms for a new contract, which included upping their own pension contributions to maintain benefits and capping the city’s contributions.
A second allegation in the lawsuit — that the city failed to negotiate in good faith with the firefighters association — is pending in the court.
Evans also ruled, however, that the firefighters association can immediately appeal his partial summary judgment on the contract issue instead of waiting for a decision on the claim about failing to negotiate in good faith.
“Months, if not years, of unnecessary litigation and court time will be avoided if this appeal goes forward at this time. Moreover, the critical labor negotiations between the City of Fort Worth and its firefighters will benefit from an early resolution of this important question,” Evans wrote.
The lawsuit was filed in January after city negotiators refused to take the contract talks before an arbitration board and they refused to work with a mediator to break the logjam over pensions.
Instead, the City Council voted unanimously in January to approve a resolution outlining cuts in pension benefits for current firefighters and future hires.
The council resolution reduces the multiplier used to calculate benefits from 3 percent to 2.5 percent and raises to five years the number of time that high-salary years used to determine a firefighter’s retirement pay. Overtime that is not built into the pay base is not included.
Currently a firefighter’s retirement pay is based on the three highest-salary years, the retirement multiplier is 3 percent, and the final calculation of retirement benefits can include overtime.
The city pension fund’s unfinanced pension liability increased from $1.07 billion in 2013 to $1.12 billion in 2014, though the increase was expected because of a decrease in the rate of return and included a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for some employees.