The Fireman’s Union Never Stops Never Stopping
In the comedy film “Popstar,” Andy Samberg plays a naïve popstar who can’t accept the reality of his recent musical failures. Because of that naivety, he keeps trying to become a star again despite the odds, with predictable movie success at the end. Overall, it’s a funny movie worth watching.
Less funny are the continuing efforts by the St. Louis City fireman’s union to return to the extremely generous and biased-against-taxpayers pension system of the past. After years of political fighting, the Slay administration successfully revised the fireman’s pension system in 2012. The new plan put control of the fireman’s pension under a board of city appointees— under the old system, the pension was run by the fire department and the union itself. What was wrong with the old system? Well, nobody was watching out for the taxpayer’s interests, and they are the ones who paid for everything.
Ever since those changes were made, the union has been “never stopping” in its efforts to get the old system back. How generous was the old system? Well, the former director of the fireman’s pension system, Vicky Grass (who was subsequently elected to the board of aldermen), received a cash payout of $579,000 when she retired in 2015, on top of her monthly $4,870 monthly pension. That’s $579,000 in taxpayer dollars! What did Ms. Grass think of the changes to the new system?
“The new system is not as good as the one we had,” Grass said.
Well, I would think not if you were enjoying the benefits of the old system.
But the city and taxpayers are not being exploited by the union now, and firemen are still receiving the fair benefits and pension that we all agree they deserve. How much money has city government been able to save with the pension reform? This article from 2015 documents the savings the city experienced shortly after making the pension changes:
The city pays when there is a shortfall. In 2013, the city pumped $20 million into the system. Pension reforms have since reduced the city’s liability. Paul Payne, the city’s budget director, said the city paid $1 million into the system in 2015. And it’s not expected to pay anything in 2016.
Mayor Krewson vetoed the attempt last year to change the pension system back to the old system, and hopefully Mayor Jones will do the same if it comes to that. Honestly, it should not come to that at all, but this is a classic example of a special interest group carrying outsized influence with elected officials—in this case, members of the board of aldermen the union helped put into office in the first place. Controlling pension costs for public employee unions is a key responsibility of local government. The City of St. Louis deserves credit for the reforms it made, and those reforms need to be kept in place.