Pittsburgh pension board meeting becomes fight for union retirement benefit

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A quarterly meeting of the city's pension board suddenly turned acrimonious Thursday when the president of the firefighters union dredged up a 13-year-old ordinance that gave non-union city employees a marginal retirement benefit not afforded to firefighters and other union employees.

"I need you to pay attention!" Joe King, president of I.A.F.F. Local 1, yelled at Mayor Bill Peduto, who was sitting two seats away from him. "It's been 12 years and nobody's done anything about it."

Mr. King had veered far off the agenda and out of the authority of the board, which is responsible for overseeing the police, fire and municipal pensions. Solicitor Frederick Frank said the board has no power to reverse the law.

The union president was referring to an ordinance created in 2001 that erased the "Social Security offset" for non-union city employees, boosting their pension payments. Mr. King said union employees never got the same benefit.

Mr. Peduto responded by reiterating that any added cost would have to be made up through service cuts, because he refuses to raise taxes.

The exchange laid bare the tension between Mr. Peduto and the firefighters union, which recently sued him, the city and Gov. Tom Corbett over the state's decision to keep the city under Act 47 financial oversight. That decision means that the union will have less leverage as it heads to the negotiating table this year.

Mr. King will retire Aug. 1.

He also complained loudly that Mr. Peduto and his chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, refused to meet with fire union officials.

The mayor said union officials have met with Mr. Acklin at least a half-dozen times. But they've stopped the meetings since the union filed suit on April 11. All communication is now being routed through the city solicitor's office, he said, while the litigation is ongoing.

Because of the mayor's stance on Act 47, the firefighters union did not endorse the mayor.

"I'm going to put him through 90 days of hell between now and Aug. 1," Mr. King said following the meeting.

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published May 1, 2014 6:31 PM

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