Firefighters oppose Saint John's pension reforms
The Saint John Firefighters' Association is continuing to oppose a request to scale back some of the benefits in its employee pension plan.
Saint John officials are struggling with their municipal pension plan's $129-million deficit and have ordered wage freeze and reduced pension benefits for its city staff members.
A second option for employee groups offers better wages but worse pension benefits.
Paul Stackhouse, the president of the Saint John Fire Fighters' Association, said his organization is refusing to budge on its opposition to the proposed reforms coming from the city.
"They're asking for firefighters to work to a minimum age of retirement of 60 years old with no disability benefits. Our membership isn't prepared to go with that," Stackhouse said.
"You're asking for older workers on the trucks, the rigs, a minimum age of 60, is way too old for this profession, they would have no disability no protection when they go out to calls."
Saint John's police officers reluctantly agreed earlier this week to alter its pension rules.
The city's proposal has been greeted by opposition from many unions and it must still be approved by the provincial government.
Stackhouse said under the proposed changes there would be no disability protection for firefighters in the plan for new hires.
"We're going into burning buildings with limited visibility, the type of situations we go into, it's just one of the most dangerous jobs in the world," Stackhouse said.
"You're asking firefighters to take those risks and they will to help save people's lives but we're not going to cover them for disability?"
If the provincial government does not approve Saint John's benefit reforms, city officials say property owners could face a substantial tax hike likely combined with cuts to services.
Current pension rules require the city to top up the employee pension fund by somewhere between $8 million and $10 million.
Saint John council voted recently to ask Saint John Harbour Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Killen, who left his seat on council to run for provincial politics in September, to sponsor a private member's bill to allow for the pension reforms.
In November, the city said it was at risk of having assets seized if it does not make an overdue $5-million payment on its pension fund.
Saint John's pension deficit is increasing by about $750,000 a month.