I have been a Salem firefighter for more than 12 years. I love serving this community as an engineer driving the fire truck that goes out on calls. I am also a certified paramedic and hazmat technician.
Additionally, I am a PERS member. I have a promised retirement benefit, as do all firefighters in Oregon.
Like most firefighters and public employees, I do not receive a headline-generating level of benefits. We are part of the third level of PERS started in 2003, and six percent of our salary goes into our retirement. We either pay it directly or have bargained with our employer to pick it up. In addition, I personally took an additional 16 percent reduction in my benefits from the 2013 cost-of-living reductions.
These facts are important because there is a corporate-led misinformation campaign running in Oregon to support new proposals similar to the one that was rejected in the 2017 legislative session. One proposal would take away the 6 percent pay into our benefits. Actuarial analyses showed that OPSRP members could lose up to 75 percent from our individual retirement accounts if a bill like this were to pass.
Another proposal would eliminate the defined benefit and replace it with a defined contribution plan. It wouldn’t save the state money because it doesn’t affect the fixed costs to the state for people already retired.
Enough of these shady schemes that slash benefits for no gain. It is time for state lawmakers and lobbyists to stop playing politics with my benefits.
The Oregon Supreme Court has made it clear: you cannot reduce benefits to those retirees or people no longer in service.
Everyone agrees the unfunded liability is an issue, but now there is a concerted push by a special interest group to require OPSRP members like me to pay the state’s debt our of our pockets.
Such a move would have unintended and harmful consequences. Sixty-eight percent of Tier 1 members and 40 percent of Tier 2 PERS members are eligible to retire today.
If these business lobbyists were to be successful in their attacks on public employees, there will be a rash of retirements of our most experienced first responders and other public sector workforces, straining our systems and making our communities less safe.
I have been so proud to be a firefighter. My fellow firefighters and I show up to work every day. We meet our commitments. The state must meet its commitment to us as well.
Brandon Silence is a captain with the City of Salem Fire Department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org