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Unions, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry At Odds Over Pensions

Ryan Benk

Although it’s still early in the negotiation process, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s pension proposals are being met with steadfast opposition from employee unions.

The city’s police union Wednesday rejected the mayor’s plan to move new hires into private retirement accounts. It was a day after the firefighters’ union rejected the same plan.

Leaders of Duval County’s Fraternal Order of Police, which also represents court bailiffs and corrections officers, are calling for new recruits to be enrolled in the Florida Retirement System as a condition of closing their pension plans to new hires.

But city negotiators told them Curry thinks it’s too risky to hand over pension control to Tallahassee because that could change the plan’s terms from year to year with each new session of the Legislature.

FOP leader Steve Zona isn’t buying that argument, though.

“There’s very little risk in [the] Florida Retirement System. Over the last 17 years, the employer contribution, meaning the city, has only had to increase its contribution 4.1 percent historically. Seventeen years, very little risk,” he said.

Like the firefighters, Zona said police are willing to work with the city on salary raises, but private, 401k-style plans are just not secure enough for such a risky job.

Standing beside a memorial for fallen officers, Zona accused the city of not being a team player.

“They want us, police and corrections, to shoulder all the risk. Look at the wall. That’s the risk we shoulder every day,” he said. “For 4.1 percent risk over 17 years, I think it’s the least the city can do.”

In order to roll employees into Florida’s pension plan, Jacksonville would have to apply with the state’s Department of Management Services and cede bargaining power to Florida lawmakers.

Zona said private retirement plans for police would break from other big Florida cities and could further stagnate new officer recruitment.

Zona also said he doesn't think negotiations will be finalized by January — a hope expressed by Mayor Curry.

On Tuesday, firefighters postured in a similar fashion, although Zona denies collusion with them.

At a press conference Tuesday, Curry said he was baffled by the fire fighters’ stance, considering an offered raise.

“I put a 14 percent compensation increase on the table. I’m a little surprised that that would be viewed as insulting by leadership, and I think taxpayers would feel the same way,” he said.

Curry has to get nine employee unions to agree on closing at least one of three employee pension plans in order for a sales-tax extension to kick in after the year 2030. The three plans are for police and corrections officers, firefighters and general city employees.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter@RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.