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Jacksonville Firefighter Union Leader Says Latest Offer 'Intriguing'

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Ryan Benk
/
WJCT News

Negotiations over how to reform Jacksonville’s public employee retirement plans continued Wednesday.

The city is now offering a guarantee to help unions accept the fact new hires won't get a traditional pension. But public employee unions are still arguing for rolling new city employees into the state’s pension plan — the Florida Retirement System.

Two weeks ago, unions were given 30 days to agree to a restoration of benefits for current employees, pay raises and a 401k-style-private retirement plan with up to a 25 percent city match.

It’s a hard pill for union leaders to swallow. They argue 401k-style plans, which are vulnerable to stock market swings, just don't offer the kind of security needed to retain or attract new talent.

But Jacksonville Firefighter union leader Randy Wyse does think the city’s newest offer is compelling.

“At face value of what he said, that’s intriguing that there is some piece of security there. Again, firefighters (and) police officers in Jacksonville don't get social security,” he said. “Everybody else gets social security, they have that protection and that’s kind of what we’re looking for.”

The city is now offering new employees an annuity, which can be purchased  when they’re first hired with a portion of their 401k contribution. An annuity is type of policy issued by an insurance company that guarantees an annual payment upon retirement.

Still, Wyse and other union leaders said they want to be a part of the state’s pension system.

Last week, Jacksonville Republican Representative Jason Fischer filed a bill that would make that impossible. It blocks any other municipalities in Florida from joining FRS.

“Mr. Fischer just decided that he thinks he knows what’s best for police officers, firefighters and citizens of Jacksonville and I disagree with him,” he said. “Again to throw water on work that’s been going on for 8 years I think is a little disingenuous.”

The city and union leaders will meet again in early February.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.