California Professional Firefighters

Attention Retirees: Why the Pension Fight Matters to You

Retired firefighters occupy a unique and valued role in the profession. They have experienced all of the highs and lows - the demands, the thrill and the uncertainty when the bell rings.

Retirees also know the incredible toll the job takes ... in injuries, shortened lives and shortened careers.

That's why the current fight over retirement security matters so much to all firefighters, including retirees. Using the economic crisis as an excuse, anti-employee groups have renewed their assault on pensions and retiree health care. The most extreme of these proposals would wipe out firefighter retirement security altogether for new hires, replacing a secure pension with a high-risk, privatized system that benefits only the investment bankers and brokerage houses.

"Our values are being tested as never before," said California Professional Firefighters President Lou Paulson. "Every one of us has a stake in making sure the next generation of first responders enjoys the same right to a secure retirement for a job well done."

But billionaire gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is already preparing to rollback firefighters' hard-earned pension. As a corporate CEO, Whitman slashed jobs and retirement benefits for thousands upon thousands of workers. Now, Whitman has proposed rolling back firefighter retirement and eliminating secure pensions for new public employees and replacing it with privatized, high-risk investment accounts.

The unbreakable bond that unites every man and woman who puts on the uniform of a firefighter is one of the great strengths of the profession. Firefighters are truly "one for all and all for one." But beyond the values at the heart of the profession, there are some practical reasons why this fight matters to retirees:

  • Weaker Retirement Funds: Under the Whitman plan, fewer and fewer employees will be paying into the system. That will jeopardize the long-term health of CalPERS and local retirement funds;
  • Retiree Health at Risk: Unlike pensions, retiree health coverage is not a vested right. Not only could premiums be boosted, but retirees could have their health coverage eliminated altogether;
  • Retirees' Firefighter Children: Many firefighter retirees have children and grandchildren who become firefighters. The Whitman plan will eventually create two-tier firefighter families.

"As retirees, you know what a secure retirement means to firefighters who've spent their lives protecting the public," said Paulson. "We need every voice to stand up and defend benefits that all of us have earned for the jobs we do."

Paulson urged retirees to engage in the fight to protect pensions, as well as the contest for governor. That means writing letters, talking to friends and other retirees and getting involved. Above all, says Paulson, it's important to vote and consider candidates at all levels willing to stand up for all firefighters - even the ones who haven't signed on yet.