Union: Forestry Firefighters' Pay Raise Veto Inappropriate During Active Wildfire Season

Jun 26, 2015

There’s a lot of disappointment going around due to Governor Rick Scott’s long list of vetoes. It includes more than a million dollars in pay raises for Florida forestry firefighters.

Gov. Scott’s $1.6 million veto represented a $2,000 dollar raise for each of the state’s 606 Florida Forest Service Firefighters. Few were more upset than state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” said Putnam. “Our forest firefighters put their lives on the line. Their demonstrably underpaid, relative to peers. And, I’m even more disappointed that it was not applied consistently. The helpful people who take your drivers license photo were allowed to receive a pay raise, and our forest firefighters who put their lives on the line were not.”

In Scott’s veto letter, he stated this is an issue that should be addressed at a statewide level for all employees.

“As you know, I proposed in my budget bonus plans for state workers—I think it’s the last two or three years—bonus plans for state workers, which is what I think we ought to be doing,” he reiterated, following a recent Cabinet meeting. “There was not, in the budget—the Legislature did not put in the budget pay increases for state workers, other than that one and Highway Safety. In Highway Safety’s case, they’re seeing a shortage of applicants. And, so that was the rationale.”

Scott says the Highway Patrol—which received a five thousand dollar raise in some counties—explained their need for the pay raises, unlike the Florida Forest Service. But, Putnam disagrees with that assertion.

“That contrast does not exist,” said Putnam. “All of that data was available to the legislators who made the decision to fund it, was available to OPB, the data is available, and has been provided to everyone who needed it.”

And, House Budget chair Richard Corcoran, said as much during the special session.

“Whether it was the firefighters or the highway patrol, there’s a significant turnover rate,” said Corcoran, last week. “They’re not keeping pace with the rest of the salaries in competitive environments and they were losing employees. And, those were basically the principle reasons for those areas.”

That’s why Jim Tolley, Florida Professional Firefighters' President, says he disagrees with Scott that the Florida Forest Service didn’t demonstrate their need.

He says especially comparing Florida’s salary for forestry firefighters to that of Alabama and Georgia, the agency was trying to make the salaries more comparable to provide a good incentive.

“I can’t speak to the particulars, but I know that this is not true,” said Tolley. “They have shown that there is a reduction in the number of firefighters that they have. The amount of training that they go through is very similar to the Highway Patrol. It’s time consuming, and most of those employees will look to move to other employment once they become certified.”

And, Tolley says Governor Scott’s veto came at a bad time, given that forestry firefighters are in a very active wildfire season.

“It’s very needed,” added Tolley. “It seems that it’s very inappropriate that this veto comes as our firefighters are battling over 750 acres in Northeast Florida.”

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, they’ve been fighting 122 wildfires so far in June—twice as much as last year’s numbers.

“So, we were surprised to say the least,” continued Tolley. “Governor Rick Scott signed more than $400 million in tax cuts, which clearly benefit the taxpayers of Florida. However, he vetoed key healthcare funding for vulnerable families, and he vetoed a salary adjustment for the frontline members of the Florida State Fire service. These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect our forest and Florida’s residents, but will not see a pay increase—an increase agreed to by both the House and the Senate.”

Still, Tolley says his union hasn’t given up and will continue to fight for pay raises for these firefighters.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.