Calif. firefighters close to first pay raise in 8 years
Under the terms of the contract, Firefighters Association members would see a 3 percent increase in base pay
By Louis Casiano Jr.
The Orange County Register
COSTA MESA, Calif. — City firefighters could receive their first pay raise in eight years and contribute more toward their retirement under a new agreement between the city and their union.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with the proposed four-year contract with the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association, which would expire on June 30, 2021, during the first of two public hearings.
Under the terms of the contract, Firefighters Association members would see a 3 percent increase in base pay beginning the first pay period after its approval and subsequent 3 percent bumps on Jan. 1 and July 1 of next year and on Jan. 1, 2019.
In addition, all union members would gradually pay an additional 9 percent into their retirement for a total of 14 percent. The contributions would come in 3 percent increases that would coincide with the pay raises.
Calling the agreement "frugal but functional," Mayor Katrina Foley said the health provisions would benefit the fire employees and that the proposed retirement contributions are higher than that of fire employees in other cities.
The lifetime of the contract is estimated to cost the city $4.9 million.
"This is a fair and reasonable contract," Foley said. "Should we continue to lose our first responders to other agencies and not have people to protect us?"
Health insurance contributions would increase from $556 to $2,119 each month, according to the proposed contract. Employees who opt out of health coverage or chose to receive lesser benefits would receive a monthly payout of $1,060.
Foley praised the health benefits, citing the Las Vegas mass shooting and the recent Canyon fire as examples of how police and firefighters put their health and lives at risk.
The maximum amount of vacation accrual will be capped at 448 hours and vacation, sick leave will no longer count as hours worked when calculating overtime pay and tuition reimbursement will increase from $1,250 to $1,500 each fiscal year, according to the contract.
Union members who go to school will see an increase in tuition reimbursement from $1,250 to $1,500 annually.
During the public portion of the meeting, some residents said no dollar amount was worth jeopardizing public safety while others voiced concerns over with the city's pension debt, which is over $360 million.
The pension situation is unsustainable and "will sink us financially," Councilman Allan Mansoor said.
Councilman Jim Righeimer, a frequent critic of the city's police and fire unions, had issues with the amount the city contributes toward employee retirement, fire employees' large compensation packages and the fire union's tactics during contract negotiations.
He referred to Transparent California, which lists several public safety employees as the top earners in the city.
"The unions have taken our love (for police and fire) and converted it to cash," he said. "This first thing you learn is when you're in a hole, you stop digging. To sit there and say they're out there saving your life and it's great and there's no dollar figure to put on it is just not what we should look at."
In August, the council approved pay raises for upper-level fire employees.
A second public hearing on the matter will be held Oct. 17.
Copyright 2017 The Orange County Register