Prince George’s firefighters poised for large pay hikes

May 12, 2013

Prince George’s County is poised to give raises of as much as 22 percent to unionized firefighters, who have not received pay increases in at least three years, according to documents and interviews.

The raises could cost the county at least $9 million over two years, depending on the current pay levels of the 768 unionized firefighters. To get a raise, they must receive a positive performance evaluation and be eligible for the increases. The package, which also calls for firefighters to increase their pension contributions, was ratified by union members May 1 and awaits County Council review.

Officials in the administration of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who negotiated the agreement with the union, declined to discuss the details of the deal, the result of talks that began last fall. Around that time, an arbitrator ordered the county to give police officers raises of up to 12 percent to make up for wages lost to pay freezes.

Tom Himler, a top Baker aide who was part of the negotiating team for the firefighters’ contract, said he was withholding details of the agreement until the county concludes negotiations with other public employee unions in the next few weeks. A letter from the union to its members outlining the negotiated agreement with the firefighters shows that the contract is for two years and that the first raises would be paid July 1 .

“The big thing was getting everyone on the wage scale placed on the step they are supposed to be on based on years of service,” said Andrew Pantelis, president of the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association, who confirmed the details of the letter. The agreement also includes staffing increases that will place four firefighters at most stations around the clock, Pantelis said. Previously, some had been staffed with two firefighters during the day, augmented by volunteer firefighters in the evening, he added.

Of the 768 union members, about 100 would get only one raise, several would get two raises and the average increase would be about four raises, Pantelis said. “Those who will benefit the most from this are people with four to 10 years on the job,” he said.

The county is negotiations for pay and benefits for about 60 civilian employees, Pantelis said.

Most of the county’s 6,000 employees are unionized and have recently begun to get salary increases after years of pay freezes and furloughs that began during the administration of former county executive Jack B. Johnson (D), Baker’s predecessor.

Baker asked county employees this year to take several unpaid days off. The council has accepted two pay increases in recent years, and members are paid $102,486, among the highest wages for local legislative bodies in the Washington region. The county’s 9,000 teachers, who negotiate with the school system rather than the Baker administration, recently received one-time lump sum payments of about 2 percent.

Last month, in neighboring Montgomery County, lawmakers approved a package of raises averaging 7 to 10 percent for most police, fire and general non-uniform employees for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The pay raises, a combination of cost-of-living and step increases, total about $32 million.

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