Parker sues HFD Pensions

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker has sued the Firefighter’s Union Pension system in order to throw out an obscure state law that binds the hands of the municipality in dealing with pension negotiations. The law, passed in the 1997 session of the State Legislature, deprives the City of Houston of local negotiating authority against the Firefighter’s union. It also requires Houston to make a full contribution to the fund, something not required of its Police Officer pension plan or its Municipal Employee pension plan. Neither of these restrictions apply to any other metropolitan area in the State, only Houston.

Over the past two legislative sessions, Parker has worked tirelessly to convince the Legislature to repeal or otherwise alter the law, thus allowing “meet and confer” conferences between Firefighter’s Unions and the Mayoral administration. The Legislature has not budged, so today the Mayor took matters into her own hands. The City is suing the pension in State District Court, arguing that the law governing the pensions is arbitrary and capriciously, thus unconstitutional. “We’re trying to force negotiations,” Parker said, making the point repeatedly that this was not about screwing the Firefighter’s –especially already retired ones– out of their earned benefits. Rather, it is about making sure the City does not follow the same path as Detroit.

The lawsuit drew a harsh rebuke from the President of the Firefighter’s Union, as well as an even stronger critique from the director of the pension fund. Todd Clark, who serves in that capacity, released the following statement:

This lawsuit is not anything more than a power-grab and publicity stunt by the Mayor of the City of Houston Annise D. Parker to continue in her vendetta against the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund for certainly not supporting her campaigns. The lawsuit is a political tactics to attack and hurt elderly and disabled firefighters and their families. … It’s interesting that the Mayor can finance two lawsuits against the Firefighters’ Pension System but cannot finance the retirement of the men and women of the Houston fire department who are faced with a high degree of danger mixed with life and death decisions in their job in service to this city daily.”

I would personally disagree with his assessment of hurting “elderly and disable firefighters,” but make of it what you will. The basic plan I have been familiar with is that people who have been hired since 2004 would receive a reduction of some amount, similar to previous reforms instituted amongst the Police and civilian workforce. The Firefighters and Parker, of course, do not have an amicable relationship (and that is putting it lightly). I will update when I figure out whose Court it is in.

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2 thoughts on “Parker sues HFD Pensions

  1. Pingback: City sues HFRRF again – Off the Kuff

  2. Ten years ago, the municipal and police pensions gave away incredible amounts of costly benefits to the city. In that same time, the firefighter’s system has increased benefits repeatedly and not stopped their employees from “spiking” pension benefits like the other systems did. This will continue over time and state law or not, the city is just going to have to try something drastic like cut fire fighter pay by 25% to pay for its pension benefits. It will also have to lay off 300 to 500 firemen or make changes to their medical coverage to afford such generous perks, the alternative being both parties go back to the state and negotiate. Had HFD not continued to increase the number of years their workers could remain in DROP, I don’t think there’d be as much resentment.

    The other two systems have larger liabilities since the city has not put enough in their plans over the years but there is a plan in place to catch up, an added $10 million a year each year in the police fund for example helping to balance it out. The difference between police, municipal, and fire is that the first two have seen reason to work with the city in lean years to a far greater extent, making it easier to give them a pass.

    Frankly, I think most of the city workers earn every penny they get and more. They are paid much less than their counterparts in other big cities in Texas and elsewhere as well as have much smaller pensions but the reality is that even if the workers die early, a fact never proven, their spouses live longer than average to offset that and unlike other pension systems, Houston’s provide the same pension to widows and widowers if their wife/husband dies. Make the changes needed and move onward.

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