Biden signs big pay raise for federal firefighters

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has approved giving federal wildland firefighters a big raise for the next two fiscal years, a move that affects more than 16,000 firefighters and comes as the West braces for a tough forest fire season.

Wage increases for federal firefighters had been included in last year’s $1 trillion infrastructure billbut they had been delayed as Biden administration officials studied recruitment and retention data to decide where to deliver them.

The White House, in a statement to The Associated Press, said the decision announced Tuesday was intended to put “federal agencies on a path to continue working with stakeholders toward an updated, competitive and equitable compensation structure, as well as only a support system that can meet the many challenges that have plagued our wildland firefighters for decades.

The legislation said the $600 million infrastructure bill to increase wildland firefighter pay should go to firefighters on the condition that the firefighters are “located in a specified geographic area that is difficult to recruit or recruit.” retain a federal forest firefighter”.

The Biden administration has finally decided on a raise for everyone over the next two years, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement. The official said the infrastructure bill offers enough money to provide across-the-board increases, but the administration is seeking to work with Congress to provide a long-term solution to firefighter pay.

“I will do everything in my power, including working with Congress to secure long-term funding, to ensure these heroes continue to earn the paychecks — and the dignity — they deserve.” , Biden said in a statement.

The Infrastructure Act also authorized agencies to raise the base salary of federal firefighters by $20,000 per year or 50% of their current base salary, whichever is lower, through 2023. Firefighters will receive an arrears of salary for raises, dating from October 2021.

The National Federation of Federal Employees union had urged the Biden administration to interpret the law as broadly as possible as firefighters across the country struggled to make ends meet.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore told a Senate subcommittee last month that his agency’s workforce was 90% overall, but as low as 50% in some areas, including Oregon, Washington State and California.

The issue of recruitment, retention and low salaries for wildland firefighters had been on Biden’s radar since the start of his administration.

Last June, before the infrastructure bill passed, the Democratic president signed an executive order temporarily increasing the pay of federal firefighters to ensure no one earned less than $15 an hour.

Biden said he was appalled after learning that the starting salary for federal firefighters was significantly lower than many local and state fire agencies. Pay for new federal firefighters typically started between $11 an hour and $14 an hour, and they were eligible for overtime.

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