Fort Worth firefighters, city come to terms on new contract

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth firefighters ratified a new four-year contract over the weekend that includes pay raises and doesn’t address their pension.

Jim Tate, president of the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters, confirmed Monday morning that firefighters ratified the contract. He didn’t disclose the vote totals.

“It was approved easily, because we had no choice,” he said.

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The firefighters’ contract expired Sept. 30, on the expiration of a one-year “evergreen” period. With no agreement, the city would have been able to impose terms.

City council members are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the new contract, which would expire Sept. 30, 2018.

They’re also scheduled to vote to vote on changing the pension benefit formula for firefighters hired before Jan. 10, 2015. The city has been moving to reduce the formula for future pension benefits for all employees.

Tate said the contract agreement, if approved by city council members, would mean an end to litigation between the firefighters and city in state district court, where the association has accused the city of not bargaining in good faith.

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With the firefighters signing the contract, “the assumption is (the city is) bargaining in good faith,” Tate said. “It’s all moot.”

The firefighters will now likely join a federal suit over pension changes the city has already made filed in 2012 by Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, and Steve Hall, former POA president, Tate said.

Tate warned that the city’s reduction in future pension benefits means many firefighters will stay on until they are significantly older.

“They’re just not going to be able to afford to retire,” he said.

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The firefighters have offered, in several proposals, to increase their contributions to maintain the formula for their retirement benefits. The firefighters have maintained their proposals would effectively close the pension’s funding liability gap.

The city has argued its plan to close the funding gap would be far more effective than proposals from the police and firefighters associations, and that public safety employees wouldn’t have to work much longer to accrue the retirement benefits they need.

Wage increases in the fire contract: 2.2 percent in fiscal 2016 and 2017, and 3 percent in 2018.

The contract restores the deputy chief rank, which was eliminated when the previous contract expired.

On the pension, the city staff told council members in a report over the weekend “the agreement does not include an article on pension and it is noted that both parties may proceed with their next steps. The agreement provides for a potential re-opener for discussion only if the (firefighters) Association presents a proposal for a supplemental defined contribution retirement plan with no city contribution.”