ATLANTA, GA – An Atlanta firefighters union is taking their battle with Mayor Kasim Reed over pension and pay to a new level: YouTube.
The Atlanta Professional Firefighters Association is behind a nearly three-minute video that says Reed’s refusal to grant new raises to public safety is causing veteran firefighters and police officers to leave. The video comes about a month after local police and fire unions erected a billboard criticizing Reed as uncaring about public safety.
Reed has given multiple raises to police and fire during his time in office, but has refused to grant new salary bumps to the city’s public safety workers as long as they remain embroiled in a lawsuit challenging his 2011 pension reform.
Reed’s office did not directly comment on the video, posted Wednesday, noting the mayor has made his position on the issue well known.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Reed said in August, referring to asking for a raise while suing the city. “No person at home would be able to do that on their jobs.”
The vice president of the firefighters union said the video is part of a broader social media campaign.
“We’re losing tons and tons of veteran police officers and firefighters every week,” said Vic Bennett, vice president of the Atlanta union. “I’ve seen a huge impact on morale and our ability to do our jobs, because we’re losing some of the most experienced we’ve ever had.”
It’s the latest move in a two-year conflict between the mayor and sworn officers that started when the unions backed a class-action lawsuit challenging Reed’s pension reform, despite initially supporting it. Under the reform, employees are required to contribute an additional 5 percent towards their retirement benefits.
Reed has said that if the legal challenge is successful, it could cost the city tens of millions in restitution. The fight worsened in recent months after public safety workers were left out of 3.5 percent raises the Atlanta City Council awarded to many of the city’s workers.
Reed has said he’s given multiple raises to off-set the pension increase, but as the video notes, many public safety workers say the cost of insurance and benefits outpaces that figure.
“The point is that you can give us 100 percent pay increase, but if you charge us 120 percent for that increase, we end up in the position many Atlanta public safety workers are in, making less than they did 10 years ago,” the video states.
The video also states that the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Fire Rescue have each lost well over 100 veterans this year to better paying jobs, figures that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution couldn’t immediately confirm.
The mayor has said, however, that current attrition figures compare favorably to previous years.
The lawsuit, which represents all city workers, is before the Georgia Supreme Court after the plaintiffs appealed a 2014 Fulton Superior Court judge’s decision in favor of the city. At issue is whether the city acted lawfully when it increased employee contributions without giving workers an added benefit. Reed has said the reform was critical to securing the city’s financial future.