St. Louis fire union pushes city to follow study recommendation to raise pay

An attorney for the union argued the study shows that the city's public safety workers are "even more underpaid than we thought they were all along"


Erin Heffernan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — The unions representing St. Louis fire and police department employees on Monday called on the city to enact findings from a city-funded salary study that recommended raising pay for their members.

The unions gathered firefighters and officers on the steps of St. Louis City Hall to draw attention to the study recently obtained by the unions through public records requests.

Completed in May 2021, the study reviewed other cities and internal equity, among other factors, to recommend a citywide annual payroll increase of 7.6%, amounting to $22.4 million more going to paying city workers each year.
Completed in May 2021, the study reviewed other cities and internal equity, among other factors, to recommend a citywide annual payroll increase of 7.6%, amounting to $22.4 million more going to paying city workers each year. (Photo/Getty Images)

Emily Perez, an attorney for the St. Louis International Association of Fire Fighters Local 73, argued the study shows that the city's public safety workers are "even more underpaid than we thought they were all along."

The city hired consultant Management Advisory Group International Inc., or MAG, to complete the study, evaluating the pay and structure for more than 600 city positions last year.

Completed in May 2021, the study reviewed other cities and internal equity, among other factors, to recommend a citywide annual payroll increase of 7.6%, amounting to $22.4 million more going to paying city workers each year.

Other governments the study used for comparison included similarly-sized cities such as Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis and Louisville along with the neighboring government of St. Charles County.

For police officers, fire department privates and fire equipment dispatchers, the study recommended that the city increase the pay range about 15% to $54,800 to $75,600.

That's an about 14.5% increase with starting salaries at about $47,800 for the positions in the city today.

The study also recommended raising dispatcher pay for fire, EMS and police. If recommendations are followed, the top of the salary range for police dispatchers would increase more than 25% from $51,000 to $65,000.

In the study, MAG recommended that the new pay structure and salaries go into effect "as soon as feasible."

Acting Director of Personnel John Moten, who oversees the city's employment system, including salaries, said in an email to the Post-Dispatch Monday that potential negotiation dates have been sent to all bargaining groups.

"We are also reviewing the results of the city-wide compensation study and how the results pertain to all city departments and their employees," Moten wrote.

Fire union president, Demetris "Al" Alfred, argued on the steps of City Hall Monday that the city's refusal to implement the raises has an impact on public safety, particularly as EMS has struggled to staff ambulances and its 911 center.

"If you pay people, they will stay," Alfred said.

"For years we've been falling behind," St. Louis Police Officers Association president Jay Schroeder said. "And it's starting to show in our recruiting."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last fall that officer departures were up 60% through September 2021, while new hires had fallen by 25%.

Perez said Monday that the unions' call for higher pay comes as St. Louis has seen an influx of funds between $135 million in federal pandemic aid and the city's share of a $790 million settlement over the NFL's Rams exodus from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

"Why this should not be the time to invest in our city employees is a question that answers itself," Perez said.

Perez said the city fought efforts to make the salary study public.

Perez submitted a public information request under Missouri's Sunshine Law in February for the study. Her request was initially denied, but the city released the study after Perez filed a complaint with the Missouri Attorney General's Office, which enforces compliance with state public records laws.

A sunshine request made by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for the city's most recent citywide salary study was denied March 15 with city officials arguing that "no responsive records" existed.

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(c)2022 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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