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Politics & Government
00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f771360000Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. Four public media newsrooms are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.Our partner stations are WHYY in Philadelphia, WPSU in State College and witf in Harrisburg. Read all of the partner stories here.Pittsburgh’s WQED joins the collaboration as an associate partner. Support for this project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Is It Fair For City Workers To Use Overtime To Spike Their Pensions?

Lindsay Lazarski
In 2011, 43 Allentown firefighters retired before their labor contract expired, locking in more generous pensions benefits than the new contract would allow.

At the end of 2011, the city of Allentown had a problem. There was a gaping hole in its fire department.

No, not a literal hole. Forty-three of its firefighters retired at once. Not only did the city lose wisdom and experience. But suddenly, it owed millions of dollars more every year in retirement benefits it couldn't afford.

What drove these city firefighters out of their jobs?

A generous labor contract, awarded under previous mayor Roy Afflerbach, that was about to expire. The firefighters wanted to lock in their pension benefits before that contract became less generous.

John Stribula, the president of Allentown's firefighters union, retired in 2011.

Stribula says he loved being a firefighter. He still dreams about it, and his heart aches when he sees the other firefighters respond to emergencies without him. But the benefits were too good to pass up. 

"I probably would've had to work another six, seven, eight, or nine years to get to the same pension that I was at, and if I were to become injured, that wouldn't be possible," Stribula said.

One of the perks of the contract was that it made it possible for the firefighters to spike their pensions.

Read more of this special report at the website of our partner Keystone Crossroads.