The comprehensive pension reform for municipal employees proposed by the Oklahoma Municipal League's Carolyn Stager (Point of View, Nov. 10) falls short of considering other relevant factors. A cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach won't work when other important facts should be considered.
Not all municipal employees are alike in terms of their job functions and hours worked. Firefighters perform a very difficult, stressful job that's physically demanding and requires long hours as compared with other municipal employees. On the average, firefighters, because of their 24-hour schedule, work 2,912 hours annually. That's 832 more hours per year than 8-hour municipal employees who work 2,080 hours per year. Over the course of a 25-year career, this translates into roughly 10 years of additional labor, and yet city pension contributions aren't based on hours worked.
More time on the job as a firefighter naturally creates more wear and tear on the human body, more accumulated stress and a much higher probability for injury. The state doesn't need older firefighters.
Other problems with OML's approach include:
“Minimum retirement age” must include considerations for the maximum allowed age when employed and at the point of retirement. Firefighting is a job best performed by the young.
Consideration must be given to the fact that firefighters won't get Social Security benefits like other municipal employees. Their pension is all they'll have; therefore, defined contribution plans won't work for firefighters. This must also be considered when discussing changes to the Deferred Retirement Option Plan.
In spite of new language from the Government Accounting Standards Board, these new standards aren't a federal mandate, and there is no evidence these new standards will impose any additional financial liability on municipalities beyond their required pension contributions or affect their bond rating in any way.
The Oklahoma Municipal League has always had a seat at the table when discussing pension reform; in fact it has two appointed positions on the firefighters' pension board and was well aware of reform measures being proposed by firefighters last year. We absolutely agree that this is a “complicated issue.” That's all the more reason we should consider all relevant factors as a part of our conversation. While we fight hard for the lives of others, we hope you understand why we are fighting hard for our own.
Sipe is president of the Oklahoma City Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 157.