If you pay even the slightest attention to how firefighter unions operate, then you probably weren’t the least bit surprised by the Times-Standard article from Wednesday which details an attempt from Humboldt Bay Fire District’s firefighters union to squeeze higher compensation out of the District. Follow the link below:
Sure, according to a fire union representative, it’s been nearly a decade since they’ve been given a raise “across the board.” HBF Chief Bill Gillespie concedes it has been 8 years. But has it really been that long since HBF’s firefighters got a bump in their pay?
According to the HBF Memorandum of Understanding with firefighters (see page 5 of the document), all people employed by HBF prior to December 2014 were automatically upgraded to the highest level of the 5-tier pay scale as of July 1st of 2015. Which means that all of those hired before that time maxed out on the pay scale regardless of performance or time in the position. (Which sounds an awful lot like they’re making more money than before – we’re pretty sure that’s a raise.) Here’s a link to the pay scales for the department, too; HBF JPA Payscales 2016
Digging a little deeper, if we take an average of 1.4 firefighters leaving the department between 2014 and now (14 left over 10 years, per the T-S article), then only 4 of them working now didn’t receive the benefit of maxing out their salary steps. That’s not counting any promotions, either.
(THC has gone in-depth on the racket that are fire district MOUs before, specifically looking at Arcata Fire Protection District’s MOU. All points made about the AFPD MOU hold true for HBF’s, as well. See the links at end of the post for more.)
Matt McFarland, part of the team negotiating on behalf of the firefighters who want even higher compensation, stated to the Times-Standard that 14 union members have left HBF over the past 10 years. As compared to a number of other fire districts, both close neighbors and across California, that rate of retention does not stand out from the crowd in the slightest. In fact, one might say it’s pretty darn good.
Never mind that McFarland also said that those who jumped ship “may have left for a variety of reasons that included what they saw as stagnating wages.” Which makes the claim that firefighters are leaving solely for higher wages strike THC as both conjecture and a superb job of trying to twist the actual reasons for the departure of HBF employees in order to squeeze more money out of a department that is, according to HBF Chief Bill Gillespie, struggling financially.
As always, it seems that the ugly specter of highly lucrative retirement plans for firefighters are bogging down the system and tying up the district’s available finances.
When taken together with the actions of fire districts and fire fighter unions across the county over the last couple of years, the demands for a pay raise from the HBF union underline one thing – they won’t hesitate to take any opportunity to demand higher wages, even if it cripples the District financially and thereby creates a larger drain on tax-payers’ wallets.
Oh, we’d also like to remind you of HBF’s ace in the hole, City Councilman Austin Allison, who ostensibly is negotiating on behalf of the side who recognizes how difficult it will be to afford pay increases for the District. He’s gone on record multiple times to say that he wants to ensure getting firefighters as sweet a deal as possible, including at the end of the T-S article linked above. More on Allison’s insistence to break Eureka’s bank below, too.
And for good measure, a list of what firefighter are actually receiving in compensation: