A proposed five-year contract with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's firefighters' union representing 102 employees includes a wage and benefits package whose cost would increase by $17 million in cumulative additional spending over the five years.
Under the proposed contract compensation costs would rise from the current annual $20.17 million to $26.16 million by June 2023.
That averages out to $58,726 in increased annual spending for each of the union employees – from the current spending of $197,745 per person to $256,471 per person.
The contract would be retroactive to June 24, 2018, and go through June 23, 2023. The union's last contract ran from July 9, 2014, to June 23 of this year.
The firefighters' union does not include the district's non-firefighting employees or those above the level of captain, but does include fire inspectors and a deputy fire marshal. A staff report from Chief Harold Schapelhouman on the proposed agreement says that 67 percent of the district's revenues this fiscal year will be used to cover personnel costs for all its employees.
An independent analysis of the proposed contract – done for the district by Municipal Resource Group, LLC – determines that the contract would increase the district's spending on compensation for those in the firefighters' union by $17.04 million by the end of the contract, but that a little over $7 million of that increase would have occurred if the recently expired contract had been extended.
The compensation amounts in the analysis do not include overtime, but do include benefits.
The district's costs under the proposed contract would go up an average of 5.35 percent a year, a report on the proposed contract says, noting that the current Bay Area consumer price index in June was up by 3.9 percent over the previous year.
Highest average wages in state
While the state of California has not yet posted the fire district's pay data for 2017, in 2016 the Menlo Park Fire Protection District had the highest average wages of any state or local agency in California, according to the state controller's website. The fire district's average wages, which in the state report includes overtime and other cash payouts but not benefits, were $169,752 in 2016, more than $20,000 over the average wages of the second-highest agency, the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.
The contract shows base pay for firefighters would increase by 3 percent in 2018-19 (retroactive to June 24), 2019-20 and 2020-21, then by 1.5 percent in July 2021 and January 2022, and by another 2 percent in July 2022.
More pay for medical credentials
In addition to the increases in base pay, firefighters would also get increases in their pay for being an emergency medical technician or paramedic in July 2020 and July 2021. All of the district's current firefighters are EMTs or paramedics. The extra pay is based on the maximum possible salary for an engineer (the highest-paid firefighter below captain level), and is currently 3 percent of that salary for EMTs and 11 percent for paramedics. That extra pay would go up to 5 percent for EMTs and 13 percent for paramedics by July 2021.
Currently, EMTs are paid an additional $320.40 a month and paramedics are paid an additional $1,174.79 a month. By July 2022, under the proposed contract, that would go up to an additional $613.17 per month for EMTs and an additional $1,594.25 per month for paramedics.
In 2022, the proposed contract also adds a higher step category for firefighter engineers and the fire marshal, giving any employees already at the top of those categories an additional 5 percent raise.
As long as they receive an annual evaluation of "satisfactory," the district's firefighters get an additional 5 percent "step increase" each year until they have topped out in the pay scale, and would continue to do so under the proposed contract. District officials say that about 50 percent of the firefighters are at the top of the pay scale.
The proposed contract also includes increases in benefits for the firefighters:
• Maximum health plan coverage would go up $100 a year from the current $2,300 a month, to $2,700 a month by 2022, with the rate for 2023 set at whatever Kaiser charges for a family plan.
• Post Employment Health Plan contributions would go up from the current $442 a month to $675 a month by the end of the contract.
• The stipend for living within 60 air miles of the district would go up from the current $300 a month to $500 a month by the end of the contract.
The contract also makes official an agreement the district's board approved in 2017 for a fire captain to work 40 hours (four 10-hour days) a week as a training captain, but continue to be paid at a rate of 56 hours a week. At that time, the district said attracting an internal candidate for the 40-hours-a-week job could prove difficult since district firefighters are compensated for working 56-hour weeks (two 24-hour days on, followed by four 24-hour days off) and can receive substantial overtime pay.
The proposed contract says that the training captain would be paid 10 percent more than he or she had been paid before taking on the assignment, would have access to a district vehicle and would be allowed to work overtime during the three days a week off. The agreement would continue indefinitely, with the training captain position being appointed for a two-year term before the position would be opened up to other potential candidates.
The fire board voted in closed session on July 24 to post the proposed contract for public comment. Fire board President Chuck Bernstein cast the sole no vote on posting the proposed contract. "I voted not to present it because I did not feel this was the contract we wanted to take to the public," Bernstein said.
Bernstein said the fire board had not seen the version of the proposed contract that is now posted online, but rather a report with highlights of the proposal. He added that he has not thoroughly looked at the contract.
"It's the board's policy that we listen to the public's views before we finalize our positions," he said.
How to comment
Schapelhouman said comments on the agreement may be made through the district's website, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contract will also be discussed by the fire board at a public meeting, probably in September.
Or show your support for local journalism by subscribing.