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Clayton Firefighters Seek Raise

The request comes as city officials review the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013.

Kurt Becker said the union he represents has had a positive relationship with Clayton city staff and elected officials for a long time.

So he's hopeful they will consider a request by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2665 to approve a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for fire and police officials. A copy of that request is attached to this article as a PDF.

A memo from City Manager Craig Owens to Mayor Linda Goldstein and the Clayton Board of Aldermen lays out the rationale for the pay arrangement identified in the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

"A variety of factors, including decreased revenue and increased expenditures, continue to challenge the city," the memo states. "To aid in determining our course of action, we surveyed our comparable municipalities regarding their recent salary increases ... .

"We have made a commitment to our employees to provide market pay. Uniformed employees will be moved to the next step of their current salary structure, and no adjustment will be made to the uniformed structure for FY2013. Uniformed employees currently at the maximum of their pay grades will receive 1.8% non-base building increase."

In an email and subsequent phone interview, Becker discussed the union's position on the figures.

Can you give me the adjusted salary of a firefighter in a neighboring municipality in FY2013 and compare it to the salary Clayton is recommending in its proposed FY2013 budget?

Prior to the enactment of their FY2013 budgets, which on average included 2.5 percent COLAs, the comparison breaks down as follows: 

  • A firefighter in Clayton makes between $16.47 and $21.87 per hour. The average hourly top pay for a firefighter in the surrounding cities is $22.36. The 75th percentile is $23.62;
  • A paramedic/firefighter in Clayton makes between $17.62 and $23.40 per hour. The average hourly top pay for a firefighter/paramedic in the surrounding cities is $24.04. The 75th percentile is $24.98;
  • A fire captain in Clayton makes between $19.85 and $26.37 per hour. The average hourly top pay for a fire captain in the surrounding cities is $27.69. The 75th percentile is $29.37.

When did you first realize that the FY2013 budget did not include the cost of living adjustments sought by Local 2665?

The Clayton Fire Department Shop of Local 2665 has a longstanding and very positive relationship with the current board of aldermen and city manager. We meet regularly with the fire chief and city manager, and began meeting with the city manager in April of 2012 to discuss the FY2013 budget.  

We were not officially made aware that the budget did not include a COLA to our pay scales until July 16. In response, we sent the memo ... on July 18, and on July 19 I made a presentation to the board at a budget workshop.    

If Clayton moves forward with the current budget recommendations for the fire department, what are possible downsides for people employed there? Will people find work elsewhere? Will services to residents be hurt?

Within a few days of the budget proposal being made public I had three members of the Clayton Fire Department approach me and ask for references as they intend to begin looking for employment in other fire departments and fire districts.  

Clayton receives an extremely high level of service and professionalism from its public safety employees. We regularly receive citizen performance reviews well in the 90th percentile. Our employees take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, and the fact that the city believes that it is acceptable that our employees deserve "close to average" compensation is having a very negative impact on morale.

About how many Clayton employees do these budget figures affect? What ranks do these employees hold?

This affects about 90 uniformed employees. Every member of the and are in the Uniform Pay Scale except the police chief and fire chief.

What steps do you hope Clayton will take to adjust these figures? Over the entire department, how much money needs to be redistributed in the budget to compensate fire employees according to the COLA figures you've described in your memo? Where do you recommend the city make changes in its budget to make up for this difference?

Clayton has an excellent city manager and a very well educated and responsive Board of Aldermen who all care deeply about this community. We are hopeful that they will see that this situation is significant and take appropriate measures to correct it.  

The COLA requested equates to roughly a $0.75 per hour adjustment for our members. Our best estimate is that for the fire department as a whole, that will require roughly $100,000 to be allocated to our payroll either from the general fund reserve or from other areas in the budget.

Currently the city is allocating roughly $600,000 to replace an outdated communication system for city buildings and roughly $275,000 is being donated and spent for windows at the . We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with new ones, and we are roughly $9 million over budget on the police building, an overage that includes over $1 million dollars being spent on solar panels.  

It seems to our members that with that backdrop, there should be a way to find funds for a $0.75 per hour raise for the men and women who protect this community so that their pay scales are not below average.

Capital projects like these have value when if can afford them, but we feel it is important to have serious dialogue about the priorities of this community. The police officers and firefighters who keep Clayton's streets safe are receiving below-average compensation, and the proposed budget does not adjust their pay scale because of the deficit we have.  

That deficit is caused in large part by projects like these, and it is our strong opinion that the city should place a higher value on its public safety employees than on a solar panel.

Does this measure also affect the Clayton Police Department? Are you representing the Clayton police in this memo/conversations with aldermen?

Yes, it affects the police department and fire department. No, Local 2665 only represents and negotiates for the union members of the fire department.

What are next steps in this issue for Local 2665?

We have a meeting scheduled with the city manager on August 2, and we are optimistic that between now and then the Board of Aldermen will direct the city manager to make the necessary adjustments to our salary scale.

Additionally, we think it is very important that we encourage the city to begin aggressively exploring ways to add revenue to the budget. The current proposal contemplates going to voters in 2014 to seek a sales tax. It is our position that that timeline needs to be significantly accelerated, and we are suggesting and will advocate for that initiative to be placed on the November 2012 ballot.

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