City Likely to Cover New Hires with Death, Disability Insurance

The mayor's office said Tuesday it is anticipated the city will be issuing a request for proposals in the next few months to obtain death and disability insurance for new-hire employees.

NBC 7 Investigates reported Monday that firefighters and lifeguards hired after June 2012, when voters approved pension reform, have been working without defined benefits should something happen to them in the line of duty. 

City officials say the city is obligated to provide death and disability benefits in the event of a death in the line of duty, but it is unclear what those benefits would look like and how they would be paid-- other than the money would come from the General Fund.

Previously, firefighters and lifeguards had pensions with the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System, which includes exact terms of payouts to families or members hurt or killed in the line of duty.

SDCERS paid $31,233,762 in benefits to 808 disabled public safety members in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, according their communications manager Christina Di Leva. That figure also includes police officers. Figures broken out by lifeguard, firefighter and police were not readily available.

In June 2012, voters approved Proposition B, which meant some new city hires were switched over from the pension system to a 401K plan, which is more like retirement plans for private sector employees.

What was also taken off the table were death and disability benefits with the voter-directed mandate that the city would negotiate with labor unions to put those protections back into place.

Since then, the city has hired 58 new firefighters and 34 new lifeguards, but no protections have yet been negotiated.

On Monday, NBC 7 Investigates informed new firefighter Hobie Porterfield about the missing coverage.

"We had absolutely no idea," Porterfield said upon learning the news. "We were so concentrated on the pension and how it had been reduced to a 401K and everything that we were all so nervous about just slipped through the cracks about the death benefits. It was pretty unnerving finding out about that this morning." 

More from NBC 7 Investigates

Officials also said Tuesday the council can adopt a new methodology to provide death and disability benefits after the city has met with labor organizations.  

NBC 7 Investigates tried to get further details, but was told "because of ongoing litigation" staff couldn't comment further. On Monday, city officials said they were waiting for a final determination from the courts on Prop. B's legality before implementing death and disability coverage for new-hire firefighters and lifeguards.
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