Last week,THC looked into how the Arcata Fire Protection District has a curious habit of promoting a shit-ton of their employees to Officer positions: Arcata Fire swells top-heavy ranks; their money rolls in right out of your pockets!
If you go back and look at the ratio of Officers to Firefighters, it seems pretty clear that there is a tendency to over-promote firefighters to officers beyond what the mandated need is, which of course leads to higher salaries, higher pensions, more firefighters being hired to replace those who are promoted, etc.
Per the request of one of our readers (who, like most of you, was apparently and understandably too lazy to read through the AFPD Memorandum of Understanding that we linked), we have taken it upon ourselves to highlight some of the particulars of the contract that are highly favorable to the employee but, cumulatively, do a real number on the pocket books of those paying for them.
So, first on the list: Holidays!
While some may argue that a lot of firefighters’ time is a holiday, seeing as how they are paid to eat and sleep, it will further infuriate them how many paid holidays are provided for in the AFPD MOU. Per Article 14(Page 22) of the MOU, safety employees working 24 hour shifts receive 8 “floating” holidays per year, which can either be used or cashed in for money at straight pay.
Safety employees working 40 hour weeks receive 5 “floating” holidays with the same financial perks, but also get an additional 11 days off when the office is closed for traditional holidays.
Next up: Vacations!
What’s better than a vacation? Even more vacations! The AFPD MOU seems to take this maxim to heart. Cue the chart:
Sick Days: surprisingly, the sick days aren’t all that forgiving in this case. AFPD safety employees get 12-hours of paid sick leave per month. However, per Item 3 of Article 16, “There shall be on limitation on the accrual of unused sick leave.”
Total Days Off: So, all told, if you add up the minimum number of days off guaranteed to safety personnel, you’ll find they have a minimum of 11 for 24-hour shifters, and 30 for those working 40-hour weeks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 24-hour shifters receive 22 days off, and 40-hour workers receive 44.
Which both seem like a lot. However, you’re blood will really start to boil when you consider how many paid days off are given to beneficiaries of the AFPD MOU and compound that with taking at a look at how many days 24-hour shifters are actually working per period.
Hours of Work: Per Article (Page 9) of the MOU, “Fire district employees shall be assigned eight (8) work shifts within each 24-day FLSA cycle. This provision is not a guarantee of 56 hours of work per week.”
Meaning that, for every 24 days, firefighters are working a third of them. One third! If you take into consideration that anything above that is paid out at an additional overtime rate of 1 1/2 times their normal salary, you can see how quickly compensation can stack up beyond regular salary. And yes, let us assure you that overtime is being paid regularly to the majority of firefighters – as you can see at TransparentCalifornia, and as reflected in the MOU, which mandates that firefighters are to be paid over time.
Oh, as for their salaries…Cue the Salaries!
The salaries are nice, but pay attention to the Items D, and E. D says that employees will receive nearly automatic raises after both their first and second year, which means they’ve maxed out the normal-salary earning potential for their position in just 24 months.
Item E states that each firefighter is entitled to being paid at an overtime rate every single 24 day work period. The MOU does not say that firefighters may, or might, or could get paid overtime – but that overtime work is built into their damn salary.
How’s that for a racket?
Lastly, to touch on our point from last week regarding the staffing levels at AFPD being a wee bit heavy on higher ranking officers, we found an interesting tidbit in the MOU as well. We were talking last weekend about how the AFPD seemed intent on getting the officer to firefighter ratio as close to 50/50 as possible, and, well, we weren’t wrong.
As per Article 10, Item C of the MOU (page 16), “The District shall maintain a minimum of 18 career employees; which will consist of nine (9) Fire Officers and nine (9) Firefighter positions.”
So the only codified requirement for staffing levels is that, at minimum employment, 50% of the workforce is comprised of Officers.
Which, as we hope you know, is completely bonkers.
THC points all of this out to make a point – by manipulating the numerous ways in which AFPD employees are able to be compensated, the tax payer is taking a massive hit. To compound the guaranteed overtime in salaries is the increasingly generous paid off-time granted to employees of higher rank and longer tenure. The more captains and officers the department has, the more need there is for lower-level firefighters to fill the void left by all the off-days available to the higher-ups.
Next time the Fire Districts start coming around with the collection plate, keep all of this information in mind. There is a glut of money being thrown at overly-generous contracts and shysty retirement plans that are completely unsustainable for the local and state economy.
Rather than raising taxes, perhaps it’s time for the Fire Districts to start examining ways to restructure their departments and to begin prioritizing service over promotions and paydays.