The NFFE union has called on the White House to go beyond recently announced policy changes for federal wildland firefighters, calling for among other things for creating more such positions, a substantial immediate increase in pay and new mental health benefits.
“Our firefighters need a permanent deal on pay, benefits, and work-life balance. This is a unique opportunity to invest in our people, increase union jobs, save taxpayer dollars, and professionalize our firefighting workforce who risk their lives for the American people and our communities every day,” the union said in a letter to President Biden.
Biden recently announced a series of steps including retention incentives to effectively increase pay so that all firefighters are making at least $15 an hour, and additional 10 percent bonuses for those working on the frontlines.
He added that the administration would work with Congress “to permanently get federal firefighters a better deal, including improvements in their compensation, their benefits, and their work-life balance.”
In its letter, NFFE said that pay should be increased by at least half across the board, saying that once federal firefighters reach the journeyman level, they commonly leave for better pay elsewhere. “Pay increases will improve workforce retention, which saves on training costs and ensures we have the most experienced hands on the fire line,” it said.
It also called for making permanent the one-time incentive payments Biden announced; widening the use of hazard pay and environmental differentials; increase the number of positions by 10,000-20,000 over the next decade and convert seasonal positions into year-round positions; bring in-house certain positions now filled by contractors; enhance employee assistance programs to ensure they include specialists with experience working with firefighters and other first responders; and more.