The standoff over contract and pension fund negotiations between the city and its firefighters came with an abrupt ending of 15 months of negotiations, according to the meeting minutes.
“So for the record, after 15 months, you give us a counterproposal on pension and because we don't respond immediately you're ready to declare impasse?” asked Jim Tate, president of the firefighters association at the end of a tense meeting that lasted from 9 a.m. until after 1 p.m. on Dec. 19.
“That’s where we are,” replied Lowell Denton of San Antonio, the private attorney representing the city.
Lowell compared the meetings to beating a dead horse, saying "we think it's time to stand down."
The Fort Worth Professional Firefighters had proposed separating the firefighters’ pension fund from the Fort Worth Employees’ Retirement Fund, which includes other city employees, to allow firefighters to boost their contribution — now at 8.25 percent of their pay — by 4.39 percentage points without an increase in city contributions.
The city, however, maintains that breaking the funds apart would expose the city to litigation from police and fire employees. The city would also be liable for covering the increased payout if the health of the fund fails.
The negotiations stopped from April through August, as the city worked to finalize the fiscal year 2014 budget.
With the old contract already expired and in a one-year evergreen term, the association can either request arbitration (which city officials can deny), sue the city or accept the city’s terms. The city's contract will go into affect Oct. 1 if it is not contested.
City Council approved pension changes for general and police employees in 2012, reducing the multiplier used in calculating benefits, raising the number of years for retirement pay and eliminating overtime in calculations in those changes.
--Caty Hirst, Twitter: @CatyHirst