Tensions between firefighters and their fire chief are running high in Jackson, Mississippi over firefighter pay and the chief’s newly proposed budget. The chief’s proposed budget, which does not include any pay raises for city firefighters has the firefighters seeing red. As a result, Jackson firefighters are pushing back against their fire chief and requesting a vote of “no confidence” against the chief and his command staff. This action comes on the heels of what city officials referred to as a “red flu” last week. More than 40 firefighters, almost two-thirds of the firefighters scheduled to work on a single day called in sick last Monday in protest of low wages.
According to the Mississippi Clarion Register, starting annual salary for a Jackson firefighter is around $32,000, and the average Jackson fire lieutenant earns around $44,000 per year. Union officials claim Jackson firefighters and officers’ annual salaries are between $10,000-$15,000 less than neighboring jurisdictions. Union officials proposed significant pay raises and planned future cost-of-living increases in an effort to close the wage gap with other area departments and improve recruiting and retention efforts. However, Fire Chief Willie Owens latest budget proposal does not include any additional money for firefighter raises.
According to city officials, the chief and mayor support raising firefighter pay but are struggling to find the financial resources necessary to do so in today’s economic climate. The fire department has a total of 354 budgeted positions with 65 current vacancies. The firefighter’s union would like to see the funding earmarked for the 65 vacancies spread across existing personnel to raise pay across the board. The fire department administration counters that this maneuver will only increase firefighter overtime and hurt the city’s “fire insurance rating.”
The one thing that city officials, the fire chief, and the firefighters all agree on, is that firefighter pay has to increase. Unfortunately, both sides seem very far apart on how to make that happen.
Click here for more on the story from Mississippi Clarion Register.
And more on the “Red Flu” from WJTV.