Milwaukee Firefighters Challenge Benefits Calculation

MILWAUKEE (CN) – A local firefighters’ union claims Milwaukee has violated amendments to the city charter and the union’s collective-bargaining agreement by proposing to exclude agreed-upon pension offset payments from the calculation of their retirement benefits.

The city and Milwaukee Professional Firefighters’ Association Local #215 have worked together on CBAs for years. They cover everything from wages, work hours and employment conditions to retirement and pension benefits, including disability pay, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court by lead attorney Christopher MacGillis of MacGillis Wiemer.

The November 2016 CBA states the parties’ intention to bump up Local 215 members’ base salary with two separate 2.9 percent salary increases totaling 5.8 percent, dubbed “pension offset payment,” for those hired prior to October 3, 2011. This was intended to offset the 7 percent of their income that goes toward member contributions to the pension plan, according to the complaint.

Duty disability retirement, or DDR, benefits are laid out in Section 36 of the Milwaukee City Charter, which states that DDR benefits are calculated at “75 percent of the current annual salary for such position [as] held at the time of such injury.”

Local 215 and 21 of its firefighters say this is where things become problematic.

“Upon information and belief, the parties intended to use the pension offset component of the Local 215 members’ base salary in order to calculate the current annual salary for those who received DDR after January 1, 2015,” the complaint states.

This includes the 5.8 percent pension offset payments, which the firefighters claim are a pensionable component of base salary under the CBA.

However, a February 2017 opinion letter from City Attorney Grant F. Langley’s office says these pension offset payments should not be included in the current annual salary for the purposes of calculating DDR benefits.

“It is our understanding,” the letter states, “that seventeen (17) former MPSO members who are currently receiving DDR benefits are receiving the 5.8 percent pension offset payment included in the calculation of their DDR allowance…We believe the increased payments were made in error.”

The firefighters claim this correction goes against the CBA and the charter.

“By excluding the pension offset payment from the calculation of the Local 215 members’ DDR benefits, the defendants have breached the contract,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint goes on to claim that these changes “have caused damages to the plaintiffs, including but not limited to, lost retirement, pension, and DDR benefits.”

The firefighters’ union seeks a declaratory judgment clarifying that the 5.8 percent pension offset payments in question do constitute “current annual salary” when calculating DDR benefits.

“If injunctive relief is not granted, plaintiffs will suffer irreparable financial harm” the complaint states.

Phone calls for comment to Local 215, the city attorney’s office and MacGillis’ office made after business hours Thursday were not immediately returned.

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