Cal Fire Union Taking Fight for Higher Wages to Capitol

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SACRAMENTO -- The union representing Cal Fire firefighters plans to rally at the Capitol on Monday calling for equal pay.

An analysis by Cal HR, California’s human resources department, says analysis of that pay shows Cal Fire firefighters base pay is on average 89.3 percent lower than that of municipal firefighters.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s gotten to the point where an entry-level firefighter starts off at minimum wage and he or she is asked to risk their life. It’s embarrassing,” said Mark Oakley, a battalion chief with Cal Fire based in Indio.

The gap between state and municipal pay continues to the top. The highest paid city and county fire chiefs in California have a base pay of $134,520 a year. But Cal Fire battalion chiefs like Oakley have a maximum base pay of $70,428 a year.

“It does make me angry, but it’s in our inherent nature, our integrity in the fire service, we don’t want to cry about our pay,” said Oakley.

Cal Fire is the state’s fire department and negotiates their contract with Cal HR. Whereas municipal fire departments like Roseville, Sacramento or Los Angeles County are paid directly by local governments.

However, according to Cal Fire Union President Mike Lopez, Cal Fire firefighters have essentially the same job description, mandate and type of expertise as municipal firefighters. Additionally, they work on average 19 hours a week more than municipal firefighters.

“You have state firefighters that are making a third less and working a third more. You start losing those state firefighters to local government,” said Lopez.

Lopez tells FOX40 contract negotiations with Cal HR broke down months ago, so the firefighters and their families will rally Monday at the Capitol and appeal to the public.

Speaking on behalf of Cal HR, an administration spokesperson provided FOX40 with the following two statements.

Regarding the status of negotiations:

"The state is actively engaged in bargaining and looks forward to continued meaningful negotiations with our labor partners. Out of respect for the process, we do not comment on specific bargaining points or the status of negotiations."

Regarding the salary requests of the union:

"Our state firefighters are everyday heroes and are valued civil servants. However, when considering compensation the state must balance the needs of many different bargaining units and the overall state budget."