Muskogee Voters Will Decide Fate of Firefighter Pay Raise

Monday, February 4th 2008, 7:37 pm
By: News On 6

People living in Muskogee will have an unusual election on Tuesday. Voters will decide whether the city's firefighters get an 8% raise or a 3% raise. The firefighters want the 8% raise, but the city wants to give them the 3% raise. The News On 6's Steve Berg reports a federal arbitrator ruled in favor of the firefighters, but the city has the right to send it to a vote.

Firefighter's Union President Bryan Fuller said it's been an ongoing battle with city hall.

"We haven't had a cost-of-living raise in over 4 years, getting ready to be 5," said Firefighters Union President Bryan Fuller.

Fuller said firefighter pay lags behind Muskogee Police Officers' pay by about 9%. But, Muskogee Personnel Director Les Weston said that's apples and oranges.

"The firefighters have more downtime. They spend a lot of their time sleeping, eating, watching TV; whereas a policeman during the same number of hours is out there on the street, he's in a patrol car," said Muskogee Personnel Director Les Weston.

That doesn't sit well with firefighters, who note they will soon be adding Hazardous Materials Response and Medical First Responder to their list of duties.

"We're going to increase our workload 35% to 40% and that's on a daily basis," said Fuller.

The other main dispute is whether there's enough money available. The city doesn't seem to think so.

"If the citizens decide to go ahead and approve the firefighters' offer, the city will have to make cuts in other places. You either make cuts in expenses or increase revenue to balance the budget," said Weston.

The firefighters say it's a false alarm, who point to the arbitrator's ruling in their favor as their strongest argument.

"The city manager testified under oath to the federal arbitrator that the money was there; it was unencumbered. They had the money to pay this wage increase. And we're just asking the citizens to support us and support their hometown firefighters," said Fuller.

Fuller said in his 20 or so years of experience, he's never seen a city pay dispute go to the voters. So, neither he nor anyone else really knows what to expect. They'll find out on Tuesday.

The vote will also decide on a $100 increase in the firefighters uniform allowance, whether they get Memorial Day off, and which firefighters are given incentive pay for hazardous material work.