Long Beach has reached a tentative deal with the union representing nearly 400 of the city’s sworn firefighters. The contract, which includes pay increases to help attract and retain recruits, is expected to cost the city about $14.4 million more than the current contract over the next three years.
The city announced the tentative agreement with the Long Beach Firefighters Association Tuesday and said the three-year labor agreement would boost skill pays for paramedics and firefighters, which the city and union leaders say will help the department work its way out of staffing shortages.
“This contract will help us attract people, and hopefully help them choose Long Beach instead of Los Angeles and LA County, who are hiring right now,” said Rex Pritchard, president of the association.
Pritchard said that the department had been losing people to surrounding cities like LA and Riverside, but he’s hopeful that the pay increases negotiated in the new contract will help prevent people from leaving and buy time for new firefighters in the academy to join the ranks as active firefighters.
City Manager Tom Modica said in a statement that the deal reflects the steps the city is taking to make sure firefighters are supported and that it fosters workplace safety and employee wellness.
High-ranking members of the department have complained about the stress brought on by staffing shortages in recent months, something that has been exacerbated by the allure of working in other cities that are less busy and pay more than Long Beach.
The new contract would provide three annual salary increases across the department. This year would be 5% followed by a 4% increase in the 2024 fiscal year and finally a 3.5% increase in the last year of the agreement.
Two classes of firefighters that will see additional 3% increases in pay are paramedics and the Firefighter II classification, which have more training and expertise than recently graduated firefighters.
Pritchard said the paramedic pay bump is important because, with the level of investment the city puts into them for training, it’s critical to keep them working for Long Beach.
“In the fire service in general, they’re a high commodity and they can probably go wherever they want,” he said.
Part of the new agreement will require all members to up their individual contributions to their pensions to 12%, something that will save the city money. However, the deal will add to the city’s anticipated deficit in the coming years, which was projected to be about $28 million before the agreement was reached.
A city memo estimates that the new contract will add $6 million to this year’s budget and about $4.3 million to the $28 million deficit projected in the fiscal year starting next October.
That is likely to grow even larger as the city finalizes a new contract with the Long Beach Police Officers Association, which it’s also expected to negotiate this year.
“While projections will be updated with new information that may have both positive or negative impacts, these costs along with any other negotiated contracts, will be adding to the fiscal challenges that is anticipated to require reduction of services if other solutions are not identified,” Joe Ambrosini, the city’s director of Human Resources said in the memo.
Firefighters have already ratified the contract, and the City Council is scheduled to vote on it at an Oct. 18 meeting. If it’s approved, the agreement would be effective retroactively to the start of October.