St. Louis firefighters sue city over retirement benefits

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KMOV.com

Posted on October 6, 2010 at 8:53 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 6 at 9:46 PM

(KMOV) – St. Louis firefighters are suing the city over retirement benefits, and St. Louis residents’ tax dollars are funding the defense.

The city says the cuts are necessary to save jobs, and it’s leaving many firefighters upset.

 

After 35 years of battling blazes, Dennis Roemerman retired from the St. Louis fire department on October 1, just days after the city enacted a new ordinance that prohibits firefighters from carrying over unused sick days.

 

Roemerman says he accrued more than 4,000 hours and very rarely took a sick day. This translated into about $80,000 more in Dennis’ retirement fund.

 

Firefighters say they need that extra cushion.

 

“Our pension is so important because we’re left out of social security,” says Roemerman.

 

But the city says civilian employees’ pension, plus social security totals 21 percent of the payroll.

 

“Maybe firefighters deserve that and more, but at the end of the day, the city of St. Louis Fire Department is on its way to becoming like GM,” says Jeff Rainford, Mayor Slay’s chief of staff. “More money going to healthcare and pensions than to putting out fires.”

 

The city stopped allowing firefighters to roll over sick days. But Dan Tobben, the attorney representing firefighters, says that’s illegal because state law allows firefighters that benefit.

 

“It really seems that they know that they are not following the state law, and they're just choosing to ignore that, so we're hoping a judge corrects that,” says Tobben.

 

“Maybe the courts will end up agreeing with their lawyer.  We're in such a desperate situation with the cost of these pensions, we cannot play it safe anymore,” says Rainford. “We're really on the cusp of closing fire houses. It really is that desperate of a situation.”

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