Firefighters and command officers at the West County EMS and Fire Protection District have a new collective bargaining agreement in place five months early.
While firefighters’ wages, benefits and other working conditions have been covered for a number of years by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the board and the International Association of Firefighters Local 2665, the formal agreement with the command staff is a first for West County. But it’s a precedent that Board Chairman Dave Cobb describes as “absolutely a good thing.
“We have a good team of people here and we want to keep them,” he said.
In general, the new agreement with firefighters calls for an immediate pay increase of approximately 2 percent with additional 1 percent hikes scheduled yearly from 2016 through 2018. The contract went into effect late in July, some five months before the current pact’s expiration at years end. It will conclude early in January 2019.
The previous agreement froze the hourly base pay rates for all personnel from probationary firefighters through the rank of captain at the levels effective when it went into effect early in 2012.
A firefighter/paramedic with at least 60 months of service now has an hourly wage of $30.20, compared with $29.61 paid from 2012 until the new agreement went into effect in last month.
As in many St. Louis County fire districts, West County firefighters work two, 24-hour shifts and then are off four days. During a regular 28-day pay period, they are on duty for 212 hours before overtime pay at a rate of time-and-a-half applies.
Other significant changes in the new contract include:
• An accelerated schedule for earning vacation days, with a maximum of 20 shift days off for those with 25 years of service. The previous schedule included a maximum of 15 shift days off after 20 years of service. A shift day is one 24-hour, on-duty day.
• A fitness incentive of $1,250 annually to pay for fitness training, health club membership and/or fitness and aerobic training expenses. However, no specific proof of fitness-related expenses is required and the payment will be paid to everyone the new contract covers. Cobb said the fitness issue is an important one and remains under discussion with the goal of developing reasonable fitness standards.
• A labor-management initiative (LMI) that includes the chief, union shop steward and their selected representatives whose task will be to meet labor-management principles developed jointly by union leaders and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
• An annual payment of $1,000 to any employee who attains special skills, as determined by the LMI.
Other benefits continued from the previous contract include:
• Payments, ranging from $200-$1,000, to paramedics for successful renewal of their licenses.
• Paid sick leave of up to 168 hours annually for 24-hour shift employees. Unused sick leave can be accumulated and carried over to subsequent years, up to a maximum of 1,680 shift hours.
• Salary continuation at the regular pay rate for up to 90 days after an on-duty injury. The district pays the difference between any worker’s compensation payment and the employee’s regular earnings.
• Health insurance paid by the district for each employee and eligible dependents.
• A longevity pay bonus after five years of service. The bonus begins at 2.5 percent of the employee’s pay and increases in half-percent increments up to a maximum of 7 percent after 14 years of service.
• Ten paid holidays, with employees scheduled to work on any of those days receiving an extra $100.
• A $500 uniform allowance annually and a $450 yearly payment for uniform maintenance.
• Payment of tuition and books for college courses related to the employee’s job, up to a bachelor’s degree. The employee must receive a grade of “C” or better to receive the reimbursement.
Provisions in the officers’ agreement closely follow those in the union contract. No individual staff member’s salary is mentioned but percentage increases matching those of firefighters are called for.
Cobb said the board is facing the problem of salary compression among its command staff and the pay at one level is close to that received by an officer at the next level.
“We know we need to fix that because there isn’t much incentive for anyone to accept the greater responsibilities that come with a promotion,” Cobb said. “But the budget doesn’t allow us to fix everything at once, so we just need to do what we can now, knowing there’s still more to be done.”