Firefighter pay....Wow, where does one start to explain the pay of a firefighter or any other public safety "shift worker"? These are the class of employees that do not work the regular 8-5 with weekends off, 40 hours per week and 80 hour 2-week pay periods that are so typical of public sector and federal civil service employees. These are the employees that work all the other shifts. From 12 hour to 24 hour to 48 hour shifts. I even used to work a 5 day on and 2 days off shift when I worked for the California Division of Forestry. So you name the shift, and I am sure someone's worked it.
Firefighter's on Guam.....what is their shift? What is their pay? Why do they get paid what they do? Is their pay excessive? I will answer those questions here and it is up to you draw your own conclusions.
GFD Firefighter's Work Schedule
The GFD firefighter works 5 shifts of 24 hours each in one pay period. Each shift starts at 8 am one morning and we secure from work the following morning at 8 am. That is a total of 120 hours worked in a 14 day pay period. Our pay period, 14 days, is the same as all other Govt of Guam full-time employees. Most Gov Guam employees work 80 hours every 2 weeks and we work a minimum of 120 hours every 2 weeks. No equity there!!
So we work 5 shifts of 24 hours per pay period, 8 am to 8 am. We have two shifts that currently work. An "A" shift, or as we call it "platoon", works one 24 hour shift and they are relieved by the "B" shift/platoon that works the next 24 hour shift. That is how the work shift rotation operates.
Now the reason why we only work 5 shifts in a pay period, because there are really 7 shifts per platoon per pay period, has to do with paying overtime. Federal law mandates that firefighters that work a 14 day pay period, must be compensated at an overtime rate of time and one half of their regular hourly pay rate for all hours worked in excess of 106 hours. You didn't know that did you?
Here is that Federal Law.....
This is the language.
This is the chart.
You were led to believe that this was a local law, right? And everyone was wondering why we are getting paid, every pay period, 14 hours overtime (120 hours minus the 106 hour threshold). That should have been explained in the Public Auditor's report. After all, that report went to great lengths to explain everything else. The only problem was that, when you really read the report, there are no real specifics such as the one I just explained to you. And the result of not explaining this properly is a distortion of the facts which led to the public's perception that firefighters are "ripping off the Government". It's like firefighters are crooks, the "bad guys". That could not be farther from the truth.
But anyway, because of the overtime, we are given 2 days off from our 7 shifts per pay period in order to minimize the payment of overtime. If this was not done, we would be working 7 shifts per pay period and our overtime hours, all those hours worked over 106, would be 62 hours per pay period rather than the current 14 hours. This overtime is termed "customary overtime" by the Federal Courts. This is overtime that is regularly scheduled every pay period. This is different from "periodic" overtime that is the most common.
OK so now you know our work schedule.....we work from 8 am to 8 am, 5 work shifts of 24 hours each for a total of 120 hours per every 14 day pay period, with all hours worked over 106 paid at overtime rates.
What is Firefighter pay on Guam?
Base Pay- Well that pay is set by the pay scales of the Government of Guam's Department of Administration. They are tasked with many functions and one of those is setting and reviewing the pay scales of the employees of the Government of Guam. For more go to Compensation of Public Employees to view the pay scales and other Gov Guam pay incentives.
Since the Hay Study of 1990, which was implemented in 1991, the entry level firefighter I, was paid $10.28/hr. or $21,389/yr. That is the base pay. And when you calculate annual base pay, you just multiply the hourly rate by 2080hours. That is how many work hours in one year calculated at 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. This is also how the Federal Government also calculates base pay.
You can go to U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics web site to view the May 2010 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates for over 800 occupations. Click here. The national estimated average wage surveys are also listed there.
In 2008, 18 years later, this pay was finally increased due to Public Law 29-105, the Public Safety and Law Enforcement Pay Act. You remember that. This increased the pay by 40%, in 4 annual increments of a minimum of 10% each. We received 2 increments before the local Government reneged on this law. We only received 20%, one increment in 2008 and the other in 2009. This increased the entry level firefighter I pay to $12.34/hr. or 25,666.80/yr. This is where we are today. So every firefighter gets paid based on their pay range and grade according to the Gov Guam pay scale as any other Gov Guam Employee.
Now, other pays that we receive are:
Night differential- §6217. Night Differential Pay. All employees of the government of Guam, except the department or agency heads and the Deputy Directors, shall be entitled to night differential pay, calculated at the rate or their regular wage plus ten percent (10%), for all periods worked between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. SOURCE: § 4110.4; renumbered by P.L. 13-81; amended by P.L. 14-130; amended by P.L. 27-29:V:6. Amended by P.L. 28-068:V:5 (Sept. 30, 2005). Amended by P.L. 30-105:2 (Mar. 11, 2010).
So we receive 10% of our hourly rate for the 12 evening hours that we work every shift. (5 shifts times 12 hours equals 60 hours of night differential per pay period).
Hazardous Pay- Though we are eligible for this, as is all Gov Guam employees, we do not receive hazardous pay. The law is being violated here by not paying us this pay. I am not saying that I agree with firefighters getting hazardous pay, because like many of you have stated, firefighters knew the job was dangerous when they applied, but the law is the law and it is illegal to discriminate. But the pay ranges for the Hazardous pay are variable and that document is available at the Department of Administration in Hagatna.
EMT Pay- § 6223. Firefighters - EMT-A Duty. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a Firefighter in the Guam Fire Department who performs work as an Emergency Medical Technician-Ambulance (EMT-A) and is a certified EMT-A shall be entitled to differential pay calculated at the rate of his or her regular wage plus fifteen percent (15%) for all periods he or she is assigned as an EMT-A and is a certified EMT-A.
SOURCE: Added by P.L. 19-52:10 as an uncodified section; codified by Compiler. Repealed by P.L. 28-62:5 (June 30, 2005). Restored by P.L. 28-068:II:2:18 (Sept. 30, 2005).
This pay is only paid out to the EMTs when actively assigned to Ambulance duties for that particular shift and the Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel. No one else is authorized to receive this EMT pay. Keep in mind that all GFD firefighters are EMT certified and recertify every 2 years (Minumum 45 hours course attended on off-duty time). If any firefighter's certification lapses for any reason, they do not work on the Ambulance or receive any EMT pay until they are receritified. This happens time to time and mostly to our firefighters that are in the military reserves and guard when deployed. But they recertify upon their return.
Overtime- Every pay period, as previously mentioned, we work 120 hours ( 5 shifts times 24 hours each).
Local law mandates that we get paid for this overtime at a rate of time and one half. Here is that law as it is codified in the Guam Code Annotated...
All the previous versions of this law are listed in the "SOURCE" section on the end. You can review most of these public laws online so that you can read the intents, the submissions of testimony and the voting records by going to the Legislature web site here. Once there you can click the drop down menu button "Public Laws" and go to the pertinent Legislature, example 12th, 14th, or which ever you want depending on the law you want to look up. If you see P.L. 20-172, the "20" means the 20th Guam Legislature. Anyway, enough said.
Going back to the Firefighters Compensation Law, this mandates the rates of compensation. It is very clear. Every GFD firefighter, except the Fire Chief, shall be paid their regular hourly rate for all work up to 106 hours and at time and one half (overtime) their hourly rate for all hours worked over 106. I won't get into the Admin part because I am only addressing 24 hour schedules of firefighters.
Though I mentioned earlier what the federal law mandates and showed you one of the statutes, I would like to expand my points in this area.
The Fair Labor Standards Act or also known as the FLSA controls most aspects of fair pay for labor. It is part of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In particular to firefighters is CFR 29 Labor, Chapter 5, Wage and Hour Division, Part 553, Application of FLSA to Employees of State and Local Governments. You can read it all by clicking right here.
Now the section that mandates when to pay the overtime is section 553.230. You can read this section by clicking here. It identifies the different hourly thresholds for paying overtime depending on the work period. For GFD, since we work a 14 day work period, we must be paid overtime for all hours over 106. You can see that the local statute mirrors the federal statute. As a matter of fact, even the "work period" is defined. You can read that here.....
Now I can attach AG's opinions, information and guidance papers on this topic that I have, but those are not really necessary for this post. But if you like to have a copy, email me and I will send it to you. You will find that I only act and talk about an issue when I have the "black and white".
As a special note, between 1987 and 2003, we worked 5 shifts of 24.5 hours for a total of 122.5 hours per pay period. During this time we were only paid for 106 hours of work. We did not get paid for that 16.5 hours worked per pay period over 106 because the GFD fire administration at that time said they were deducting for sleep time and meal time as per the FLSA.
Sometime in 1990, with the advent of the internet, we were able to research the FLSA laws. We found out that those deductions could only be applied if there was an agreement between the individual firefighters and management. There were no agreements and when we pressed the issue, Gov. Carl Gutierrez finally corrected this violation of federal law and authorized the payment of the overtime for all hours over 106. We were never compensated for all those back wages. It amounted to one large and costly sacrifice.
Why did I bring this up? I just wanted to show that GFD firefighters have been making sacrifices for many years. To the tune of about $30,000,000.00 in a 14 year period. What other Gov Guam agency or private sector company group of employees has made that type of sacrifice? The OPA didn't tell you about that either did she? I wonder why. That is part of the "big picture" when it comes to challenging the integrity of the GFD firefighter. When you start to paint a picture, you need to finish the whole picture before you unveil it. We need to be fair here. We have done more that our part. Is there equity yet?
OK everyone. I believe I have shown you the mandates for each pay category that we receive. You can see that we do not receive anything that is not allowed by law. And these types of pay are consistent with other fire departments across the country. Do your own research and see.
Now, we are going to start putting all this together and answer the big question. Are Guam Fire Department firefighters getting paid excessively?
Well, from my last blog post, "The Real Story about Firefighter's Leave", I showed you step by step that there is no non-productive pay, there is no bonus pay and as a matter of fact when a GFD firefighter goes on leave, they are typically shorted 14 hours of pay. If you didn't read about this or forgot, you can go back and read all about it. You will see that the real facts have been distorted in the OPA's report, in my opinion. "Non-productive pay" and "bonus pay", with regard to firefighters, are not tangible items whatsoever. They are simply words. That's it!!
But getting back to the "excessive pay" allegation. I just want to mention that when someone says that your pay is excessive, that term is not fact. The term "excessive" is an adjective, a personal view, a descriptive term that someone would use to describe something. It is a purely objective term. It is not a factual term. So the bottom line it is just an opinion. Look it up in the dictionary. But let us see if we can find anything that is excessive or based on any determinable basis of fact(s). So far I have explained to you our base pay and other special pays that firefighters are eligible for as per the law. No extra pay so far right?
So how do we stack up with other fire departments in the mainland. The reason why I am comparing us to other firefighters is to show the possibilities, if any, that may exist with inequities as stated by the OPA's report and also others in the media. We cannot very well compare us to an 80 hour employee as has the OPA. That is like comparing apples to oranges. We work 50% more hours than most Gov Guam employees. And we work "shift" work as described earlier. Can you really say that we can compare these two classes of employees on equal grounds? I think not. That is why we have to compare ourselves to other full time fire department employees.
Let us start by reviewing the demographics of our island and what firefighters have to protect and the special skills that we must have in order to accomplish our mission on this beautiful tropical island. I mean, your duties have a lot to do with how much you get paid, right?
First off, our island is roughly 212 square miles in size. It is bigger than the average city. We service an island population estimated at about 180,000 to 185,000. We are still waiting for the census to come out for Guam. We have over 1.2 million tourists a year. Hotels are listed at over 25 and many of these are what we would classify as 'high-rise" hotels. And these high rises are scattered throughout the island. The rooms available alone are over 6700. So these present considerable structural and life safety challenges for firefighters. We must protect about 120 miles of coastline. And you all know about the hazards our surrounding waters present to us. These have been well chronicled in the local media. We have hundreds of miles of fuel pipelines criss-crossing our island. This can get a little touchy during grass fire season. We've got industrial hazards, a commercial port to protect, an international airport, an average of 2 cars plus per family that results in many traffic accidents daily, slippery roads, you name it, we've got it. What I am trying to say here is that you would be hard pressed to find another place in the United States, with the population of Guam that has the demographics that we have. Just take a moment to try and think of any place that you have been that can compare.......................................
Ok, now that was hard, right? I can't think of any. And with all of this in mind, we are the only civilian fire department protecting everything outside of the military bases and our airport. We don't have all the help other stateside fire departments have. We are by ourselves. Yes we do receive help from time to time from the military, but their priority is their military bases. So we cannot count on them.
Getting over to the pay, as I mentioned before, our starting firefighter I pay is now $12.34/ or $25,666.80/yr. If you compare us to the most recent Firehouse.com wage survey you will find that our starting firefighters, as compared to the surveys "Starting FF Pay" category, fall below the 2% level. There are only 5 other departments in this survey that are paid lower than our starting firefighters. And this is out of 287 U.S. fire departments surveyed. So are we "excessive" yet?
Here are the starting fire jobs in Hawaii. This is about as close as we can get to our demographics. Of course there is a large disparity regarding population and size. But this gives you an idea where we stand. Remember Hawaii has cities and towns (villages) of all sizes and response activity also. Just like Guam.
Hawaii Fire Job Categories and Pay
But this gives you an idea about the base pays. Just look at the Firefighter pay. The Hawaiian firefighter starts out a $4,027/mo. or $48,324 a year. That is almost double the starting firefighter pay here. And Hawaii has many more firefighting assets than Guam. You can check out their department here. It is truly amazing how many resources they have as compared to us.
You can also check the National Estimated Wage surveys from the U.S. Department of Labor that I mentioned earlier. Here are the average wages for all the Protective Services, where firefighters are classified. Protective Services Wage Information. You will find that our firefighter's base pay, 2080 hours, is well below the "National Averages". The OPA's firefighter pay figures, though we do not dispute the firefighter salaries as indicated, contain all the extra hours, incentive pays, overtime pay and holiday pays that firefighters at GFD were paid. I wonder if she included all those pays for other Gov Guam employees that she compared us to? Anyway you can obviously see it would be impossible to compare us on an equitable basis.
So I have shown you that our Guam Fire Department Firefighters are paid quite a bit less than the averages of other fire departments in the rest of the U.S. And remember, if you were to do further research on the special pays and incentive pays of those other departments, you will find pay for seniority, speaking other languages, education (degrees), special certifications such as Haz Mat Tech, Rescue Tech, etc. The list goes on. And though the GFD firefighters have many of those special certifications and additional education and degrees, we do not receive pay for those. So I ask again, is our pay really excessive? No I say. It is a good wage, but not excessive by the proper comparisons.
And guess what, we are not even the highest paid firefighters on Guam. That's right. The Federal firefighters on Anderson and the Navy work 144 hours and get paid 38 hours of overtime.
So in comparison with other firefighters and fire departments in other jurisdictions, the figures speak for themselves.....we are not excessively paid. We are underpaid!!! And for the hazards and demo-graphical challenges that GFD firefighters face, we are grossly underpaid. But then again "grossly" is just an adjective right? It really doesn't mean anything....just like "excessive".
Until the next time....