The State Worker

California fire fighters’ union OKs modest pay raise

Firefighters work together as a hand crew to clear a fire break during a training exercise near Jackson, Calif.
Firefighters work together as a hand crew to clear a fire break during a training exercise near Jackson, Calif. The Sacramento Bee

After nearly two months of debate among its rank and file, the California’s state firefighters’ union says its members have agreed to a raise that falls far short of what similar jobs pay elsewhere.

A little more than 70 percent of voting members among the 6,000-employee union ratified the agreement. The deal blesses last summer’s 6.1 percent raise for the state’s lowest-paid firefighters to keep their pay from falling below California’s new $9-per-hour minimum wage. Other union members will receive a 4 percent pay increase. The deal doesn’t change anything except salary terms.

Despite the thumbs up from seven in 10 members, union President Mike Lopez said, “it was the lowest approval percentage since the mid 80s,” and a sign that the normally-united rank and file struggled with whether to accept the agreement.

The modest pay bump was in keeping with the Gov. Jerry Brown’s ceiling-setting salary deal with SEIU Local 1000, but the proposal upset some union members who noted that the administration’s own pay-parity study showed state firefighters’ compensation lags those of their local counterparts by 30 percent or more.

And union leaders weren’t happy that the higher-percentage increase for entry-level employees didn’t flow up the organizational chart. That will only aggravate salary compaction, they said, which occurs when pay for lower-level workers approaches or exceeds that of their senior colleagues or managers.

Despite those misgivings, the union’s bargaining team took the agreement to members for a vote last month with a promise that it was just a baby step ahead of another round of salary talks in 2015. Lopez said that he doesn’t expect those negotiations to immediately close the pay gap with other local agencies, but he wants to see a “path” to relieving compaction in the upper ranks and raising entry-level pay above the allowed by law.

“Minimum wage,” Lopez said, “is not acceptable.”

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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