City fails to make good on promises to police, firefighters

March 18, 2010

In 1962, Baltimore's mayor and City Council made a solemn promise to our police officers, firefighters and public safety workers to provide them with retirement benefits, line-of-duty disability benefits, ordinary disability benefits and death benefits in lieu of Social Security. Our police and firefighters face working conditions that are far more dangerous than most and have a high risk of work-related death and disability. These men and women have earned the benefits that the city promised in exchange for their service to the city and its residents.

During the past 10 years, the city has failed to make good on its promise. Specifically, it has not contributed amounts necessary to safeguard the benefits guaranteed by the Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System. Rather, it has used the savings to balance its budget.

We recognized the problem and, almost a year ago, our organizations submitted a proposal to the city and the pension system's trustees to ensure the long-term sustainability of the system and protect the benefits that had been promised by the city. We knew then that the pension system was at risk. We were left waiting for a response.

Now the Greater Baltimore Committee's pension task force has released an executive summary of its review of and recommendations for the system. In its recent editorial, The Baltimore Sun acknowledged the enormity of the problem but suggested that the police and firefighters make the lion's share of sacrifices to save the pension system.

Unfortunately, the GBC report and Sun editorial appear to understate the magnitude of the pension crisis. If the system were terminated today, no money would exist for current employee benefits and, arguably, a deficit would exist for retiree benefits.

We are not looking to cast blame; however, it is time for all parties to look in the mirror and acknowledge the severity of the problem -- only then will we be able to work toward a solution. We should not ask our police, fire and public safety workers to accept changes that would allow the city to avoid its contractual and moral obligations.

Our mayor had it right when she referred to the pension issue as a ticking time bomb. It is time for the mayor, the City Council, and the pension board to join us at the table. Only together can we keep the city of Baltimore safe and protect the retirement, death and disability benefits that have been earned by our police officers, firefighters and retirees.

Robert F. Cherry Jr., President, Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore City Lodge #3 Robert J. Sledgeski, President, Baltimore Fire Fighters, Local #734 Michael B. Campbell and Sam Darby, Baltimore Fire Officers, Local #934

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