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Firefighters continue battle against proposed pension changes

(Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio)
IAFF Local 73 president Chris Molitor, front, outlines his union's objections to proposed pension changes at City Hall on February 10, 2012.

St. Louis city firefighters took their objections to pension reform proposals from Mayor Francis Slay to City Hall on Friday, the day the legislation making the changes was formally introduced.

Firefighters say they don't object to the cost-saving proposals in the bills, including reduced disability payments for firefighters who can be retrained for a second career, and a two-tier system that could reduce pension benefits for new hires.

But they want to keep in place the current system that requires the city to first get permission from the Missouri General Assembly to make those changes.

That system is working, says union president Chris Molitor. The department already got the enabling legislation for disability benefit changes.

"It was then brought to St. Louis as a board bill, introduced by Ald. [Joe] Vacarro, and on orders of the mayor, was held up in committee," Molitor said. "We keep hearing how the city is in a real financial crisis, and the firefighters offered real changes. That's been flatly refused. We could have been seeing these savings as recently as late August of last year."

City officials say the current system leads to piecemeal changes. And, says Sam Dotson, the mayor's operations chief, changes to the pension benefits for city employees have never needed approval from Jefferson City.

"So why is that system okay for 4,500 city employees, but now you're trying to create a system that mirros that, and there's a problem with that," he said.

The union says it will sue if the legislation is approved. The first hearing on the proposals is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Room 208 of City Hall.

Read the legislation that would opt the city out of the current system for firefighter pensions here.

Read the legislation setting new benefit levels here

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