Two Philadelphia firefighters have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that union officials have deprived rank-and-file firefighters of their full pension benefits by providing bad advice. The firefighters seek to uncover whether union insiders did this to preserve the opportunity to maximize pension benefits for themselves and their friends. At least 100 current and retired firefighters are potentially affected, according to the complaint.
IAFF, Local 22 officials conceal firefighters’ vacation ‘sell back’ options
For a limited period prior to retirement, Philadelphia firefighters can sell back their unused vacation days and have them count toward their pensions. But our clients allege that union officials from the International Association of Firefighters, Local 22 (Local 22) have been advising rank-and-file firefighters not to cash in their vacation days for pension credit, potentially costing firefighters and their families thousands of dollars per year in pension benefits.
Union misled firefighters, depriving them of full pension benefits
Joe Farrell and Patrick Viola have over six decades of Philadelphia Fire Department service between them. Both followed union officials’ advice and did not sell back their unused vacation days when they would have counted toward their pensions. Later, Joe heard rumors that union officials were doing exactly what they told their members not to do. Joe went to the union’s financial secretary for an explanation.
Firefighters lose potentially thousands per year in pension benefits
The complaint alleges that union officials intentionally withheld this information from rank-and-file firefighters, while insiders had the opportunity to take advantage of the sellbacks themselves. Both men would have sold back their unused vacation days and boosted their pensions had Local 22 officials not advised against it. Joe had nearly six weeks of unused vacation days that he could have applied to his pension—benefits that amount to potentially thousands of dollars over the decades to come.
Joe said, “I want every firefighter to know the union purposely withheld financial information from the general membership concerning our non-COLA pension. And yet a select few, through some sort of ‘buddy system,’ were given information that helped them only. The general membership, our surviving spouses, and children were victims of willful omissions by our union.”
“Rather than representing all firefighters fairly, union officials appear to have favored themselves and their friends over rank-and-file firefighters,” Fairness Center president and general counsel Nathan McGrath said.
Class-action lawsuit seeks to recover lost pension benefits
Joe and Pat found the Fairness Center and filed a class-action lawsuit in October 2023 against IAFF, Local 22 and the City of Philadelphia. The complaint estimates that at least 100 other firefighters could have been affected by union official’s actions. Their lawsuit seeks to recover their lost pension benefits, hold union officials accountable to their legal duty to represent employees fairly, and ensure Philadelphia firefighters know the truth about how vacation sellbacks affect pensions.
“It’s bad enough that I will have a smaller pension because of union official’s deception. But it’s infuriating that if my wife survives me, she will have less to live on.” – Pat Viola, Philadelphia firefighter
Farrell v. IAFF, Local 22 was filed with the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Trial Division.