Editors note, 3:18 p.m.: This story has been changed to include a quote from Mike Lopez, president of California Department of Forestry Firefighters Local 2881.
State firefighters will receive a raise next year, according to Brown administration documents published on the state’s human resources website, even though their current contract doesn’t specifically call for a pay increase.
Roughly 4,700 members of California Department of Forestry Firefighters will be receiving a 4 percent salary bump on Jan. 1, 2015.
In addition, the salary range for employees in the Firefighter II classification, an entry-level full-time position, has been increased by 6.1 percent, or about $200 more per month. The Fighter II raise is retroactive to July 1, 2014.
The raises will add a total $20.3 million to state payroll costs between now and the end of fiscal 2015-16, according to administration estimates.
Despite the increase, the union remains concerned with entry-level salaries and a recent state pay survey that shows state firefighters’ compensation lags those of their local counterparts by 30 percent or more.
“The administration recognizes these problems,” said Mike Lopez, president of California Department of Forestry Firefighters Local 2881, “and we anticipate working with them toward a reasonable resolution in 2015."
The firefighters’ union started quiet talks with the Brown administration last year, seeking to reopen the no-raise contract it extended in 2012. Two years ago, the gamble made sense. The state remained in the throes of serial budget crises that threatend more program and personnel cuts. The firefighters negotiators decided to take the certainty of a longer-term deal – albeit with no raises – instead of betting on a comeback. So they extended the contract to 2017.
The move backfired. Voters passed Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary (for now, anyway) tax hike ballot measure and the state economy began to rebound. The following year, Brown was bargaining across-the-board raises with SEIU Local 1000 and other state employee unions. But since the firefighters’ extended deal contained no salary increase, their union wasn’t included in those discussions.
Still, a provision in the contract allows the the firefighters to reopen the agreement to discuss pay increases. The union invoked that clause, which led to the raises posted by the state this week.
The union didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Here are copies of the contract changes.