In today’s edition of the Washington Post Joe Davidson writes about the Administration’s foot dragging and failure to implement the pay raises that were signed into law by President Biden in November as part of his Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
One stumbling block the US Forest Service and Department of the Interior appear to be dithering over is the law stated that the new pay structure would only apply to firefighters in “a specified geographic area in which it is difficult to recruit or retain” them. However the conventional wisdom in the ranks is that all areas have serious recruitment and retention problems. In some locations, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said May 4 in Congressional testimony, the staffing levels are at 50 percent.
Below are excerpts from the Post article:
“Congress appropriated this money months ago, and yet, federal wildland firefighters have still not seen a dime of it,” National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) President Randy Erwin complained in a letter Wednesday to top Biden administration officials. “Congress intended this money to move quickly into the hands of wildland firefighters, a very large percentage of whom experience significant difficulty making ends meet on their current salaries.”
Aana Kulaas and her husband, Chad Bresnahan, are Forest Service firefighters in Washington state. Although she has a bachelor’s degree in natural resource science and 23 years of experience, Kulaas, speaking as a union official, said she earned $23,023.52 last year. She had no overtime pay because she had to care for three children.
Her husband did earn overtime pay. Without it, “we would not be able to afford our mortgage or my medical bills,” she added. “Our financial well-being is directly tied to how severe the fire season is. The busier the season, the more money he makes … While the overtime keeps us afloat, the downside is all the family time and mental and physical health that must be sacrificed.”
To make matters worse, “we work in an unsupportive environment, so there is no rest and recovery even during the brief offseason,” Kulaas, 42, added. “There’s just this constant cycle of being chewed up and spit out and the expectation to perform at a high level.”