Note: This piece originally ran on Tuesday in the Scott Lewis on Politics blog.
Saturday, April 21, 2007 | OK, not long ago I called out the police union for a ridiculous ad it was running on its website that basically said officers were going to get shot if they didn’t get a raise. That was absurd. They agreed and took the ad down.
It’s time to turn on the outrage meter again. It’s entirely appropriate for the city of San Diego’s firefighters to ask for more money. It’s up to city officials to decide if the city needs to give it to them.
But the firefighters are being outrageous. You might have noticed the picture we have on the front page. Notice the little sign one of the protesting firefighters is holding:
“No more FF’s on food stamps,” it said.
C’mon, that’s absurd. Take a look at this list of the top 1,000 paid city employees. More than 380 of them are firefighters. More than 380 firefighters are making more than $95,000 a year. The fire department has a total of 1,144 positions. That means that at least one-third of the entire department is making more than $95,000 a year.
And they can retire and get a full pension at age 50. There are plenty of other benefits to the job.
They can ask for a raise, and the city can decide to give it, but the pleas of poverty seem insulting.
San Diego County http://www2.sdcounty.ca.gov/hhsa/ServiceDetails.asp“target=”_blank”>reports that a family of four can have a gross income no higher than $2,043 a month to qualify for food stamps. That’s $24,516 a year.
According to the proposed budget, is not a single person in the fire department — including the non-uniform clerks — is scheduled to earn less than that .
I called Frank De Clercq, the vice president of the local firefighters union. He said that three families of firefighters qualified for a federal program called the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. To be eligible for the program next year, a firefighter would have to make less than $38,200.
The lowest paid firefighter will make $39,360 a year next year, which is a great entry level wage. And there are only 20 firefighters in that category. The vast majority of the rest of the firefighters are so-called “Fire Fighter IIs” whom the mayor wants to pay a base salary of $60,823 plus overtime. Many “Fire Fighter IIs” — when you add overtime — are on that list of the top paid employees in the city.
So even if you are at the lowest rung of the firefighters pay ladder, stick it out a couple of years and you’ll make a far better salary. That’s called incentive. That’s what employers do.
De Clercq says you have to look at the cost of living in San Diego.
“When you’re feeding four mouths it makes it tough. In this city, these people can’t afford to rent an apartment,” De Clercq said.
That’s a fine argument. You can hold that firefighters deserve more — that everyone in society deserves more pay.
But they are not poor. And they have ample opportunity to move into the middle class, if not higher.
The firefighters should learn, like the police did, that public relations stunts like claiming abject poverty in the face of overwhelming stats to the contrary only hurts them.
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