San Diego Restores Firefighter Death, Disability Benefits

The benefits were eliminated following the passage of a voter-approved ballot measure that replaced pensions with a 401(k)-style retirement plan

SAN DIEGO — After seven years of battle in courts and at the negotiating table, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to restore death and disability benefits to firefighters.

The benefits were eliminated for firefighters and other city employees — with the exception of police officers — following the passage of Proposition B, a voter-approved ballot measure that replaced pensions with a 401(k)-style retirement plan for employees hired after July 2012.

More than 350 firefighters the city hired after voters approved Proposition B never got the benefits, which provide 50 percent of their base salary until death if they are injured in the line of duty and cannot continue working. For those killed in the line of duty, the benefits would go to their spouse.

Tuesday’s City Council vote approved an interim plan to restore the benefits to firefighters, according to city records. The plan is described as interim because a state appeals court ruled that Proposition B was placed on the ballot illegally and ordered the city in March to restore all employee benefits it removed.

For firefighters and their union, Tuesday’s vote was a victory.

Jesse Conner, president of the San Diego City Firefighters IAFF Local 145 union, told the San Diego Union-Tribune Tuesday that while the interim plan is probably not going to be the ultimate solution to the pension issue, it demonstrates that responsible leadership and cooperation can achieve positive results.

“It protects the city, it protects employees and ultimately it protects citizens,” Conner said of the interim plan. “I think it will help give our firefighters some peace of mind that their families will be protected just like most firefighters throughout the state and country.”

City officials have for years blamed fire department staffing shortages on salary and benefits packages that fail to compete with surrounding jurisdictions, an issue that has led to ballooning overtime costs.

The city of San Diego spent more than $46 million in firefighter overtime last year, according to public compensation data. The department plans to hire 220 new workers over the next five years.


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