City and firefighters union disagree on raises as part of contract negotiations
photo by: Chris Conde
City of Lawrence and firefighter union representatives disagree on how much of a wage increase is needed to keep firefighter pay competitive, and discussion about raises and other compensation issues will continue as contract negotiations proceed.
The union’s current contract covers firefighters, fire engineers and fire lieutenants in the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department, and it expires at the end of this year. Representatives for the city and the association of Lawrence Professional Firefighters, Local 1596, agreed to open contract negotiations, and they began meetings to discuss the contract about a month ago.
City and union representatives met Friday to consider pay increases. The current pay structure provides the potential for a maximum 5% pay increase for merit, and the union proposes establishing an annual general wage adjustment based on the consumer price index in addition to those increases to all pay levels.
Union Treasurer Aaron Payne said that such an increase would help keep firefighter pay market competitive.
“Using that calculation would help maintain the pay plan so we’re not further behind,” Payne said. “So we’re not having to do big adjustments, and hopefully we stay on the market value where we need to be.”
Union President Dean Garrison said that from 2016 to 2017, the CPI was 1.6%, and from 2017 to 2018, it was 2.9%. Garrison said there have been a couple times in the past 40 years when CPI has been negative, and the union and city could further discuss what would be done if that were the case again.
Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said the general wage adjustment could not be discussed in a vacuum, since the union’s pay structure includes other pay increases. She noted that in addition to the general wage adjustment, there are merit increases and pay increases for additional qualifications.
Under the current pay structure, pay for firefighters, fire engineers and fire lieutenants is organized into a pay plan with 24 steps, and employees are eligible for annual increases based on merit and any general wage adjustment determined by contract negotiations. Under the current contract, employees receive an annual performance evaluation and are eligible for up to two step increases — amounting to either a 5% or 2.5% pay increase, depending on where they are in the plan.
The city’s proposal would fund the current pay plan and provide for a 0.5% general wage adjustment for next year. The city is also proposing raising starting hourly pay for firefighters from $15.55 to $16.41 and for firefighter paramedics from $16.85 to $17.79.
Human Resources Manager Lori Carnahan said reviews indicate that the union’s pay plan is generally market competitive for those farther along in the plan, and the city wants to make starting pay more competitive. Carnahan said the pay plan is closer to market rate than the plan for non-union city employees, so the city thinks the 0.5% general wage increase will keep the plan competitive for 2020.
“This pay plan isn’t as far behind the market as our primary pay plan, and so movement in that structure forward and all the incumbents within it doesn’t need to be quite as great in 2020,” Carnahan said.
The city and the firefighters union will continue discussions about compensation at the next contract negotiations meeting. The meeting will be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.