Firefighters Take On Pension Critics

Say their pensions aren't the reason for New Haven's financial woes.

New Haven firefighters want to dispel any myths that firefighter pensions led to the city's financial crisis, so they took their message to the small screen.

They created an advertisement with child actors playing out a very a real scene. Using cookies in place of cash, each of them pays Uncle Sam. But in this ad, it's the broker that holds all the cookies.

“There's a message to it where firefighters didn't cause this financial meltdown. Wall Street, big banks caused this problem, and there's a lot of finger pointing that firefighters' pension benefits are part of the problem and that's not true,” said James Kottage, Local 825 President

Union leaders say they wanted to challenge the misconceptions about public pensions.

“This is a way for us to support our families and the fact is firefighters do not get paid overtime, we get paid straight time, we made that concession, and our pension is our deferred wage, so firefighters count on this so they can retire with dignity,” said Lt. Frank Ricci.

Public pensions, and the money states and cities pay out for them, have been a hot button issue as municipalities struggle to deal with budget gaps. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano says awareness about pensions is a good thing.

“It is true, for instance, that public employees, including firefighters, don't collect social security. That benefit doesn't exist for them, so they have defined benefit pension plans, opposed to defined contribution, which a lot of people in the private sector have, but that's on top of social security,” said DeStefano.

He says the problem isn't pensions themselves, but their requirements.

“I think the issue gets to be is what age can you start collecting? After how many years can you get a full retirement?,” said DeStefano.

The firefighters union contract expired this summer. The union is currently in negotiations with the city.

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