Alderman wants pension changes to help diversify CFD
The City Council's most powerful black alderman is demanding changes in state pension laws to remove a major impediment to diversifying the Chicago Fire Department's overwhelmingly white brass.
Fourteen of the Fire Department's 61 exempt-rank jobs -- 23 percent -- are vacant. The 47 bosses who remain are 78.7 percent white, 12.7 percent black and 8.5 percent Hispanic.
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin thinks she knows at least part of the reason why: State pension laws that penalize members of the Fire Department's exempt ranks.
Fire officials must retire at age 63. But members of the exempt ranks must pay for their own health insurance until they hit 65. Fire Department brass also lose pay perks, including vacation time, overtime and supplemental pay.
In addition, the state pension code doesn't allow exempt fire officers to earn pension benefits based on their current salary. Instead, their pension benefits are based on the lower salary of their most recent union-covered job.
"When a policemen is promoted up, his pay don't change when he retires out. Why would there be a penalty for the Fire Department? And they're only imposing this on the Chicago Fire Department. It's not the whole entire state. That's my concern," Austin said Tuesday.
"If they retire at the rank they're at, that's money that they lose. I've heard as much as $30,000. Those [who] take it know they will be penalized. If they would change the law in Springfield, more African-Americans can be moved up in rank."
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