Pension Controversy Reaches National Stage

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Before, during and now months after it was passed, pension reform for those who serve Baltimore is sparking fiery controversy.

Weijia Jiang reports this time, the stage is a national one.

Seven months after Baltimore’s mayor signed off on pension reform for the police and fire departments, the fallout fiercely rolls on.

“It is time for an open debate about this.  It seems like many of the political leaders in Baltimore have set such a low bar for hope in this city,” said Bob Sledgeski, IAF Local 734 president.

The unions already filed suit against the city in federal court for mismanaging funds to cover a $64 million shortfall to pay pensions.  Now they’re planning to stage a massive picket line during the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June, when hundreds of mayors from across the country will be in Baltimore.

“Unfortunately, it’s the mayor and her folks who don’t want to sit down with the police and fire unions, which is why we’re using the opportunity with other executives coming in June to have this national discussion,” said FOP President Robert Cherry.

This is the first time the convention of mayors will be held in Baltimore.  The mayor says she’s aware of the unions’ plans to protest, but she’s focusing her energy elsewhere.

“We disagree.  We have a right to disagree.  They’re suing us; it’ll be resolved in court.  They’re not satisfied with just suing us.  They want to sue and demonstrate.  That’s their choice; I’m moving forward,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The reform included increases to contribution rates, changes to cost-of-living raises, and maybe most contentious, an increase to years of service required before retirement from 20 to 25 years.  Union leaders say they’ll fight the changes for as long as necessary.

“At this point, given what they’ve done to our employees, what is left to backfire?” Cherry said.

The union presidents say they’re reaching out to mayors, state and national police and fire unions for their commitment not to cross the picket line come June.

Court proceedings for the pending lawsuit against the city are scheduled to start in March.


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