County balks at firefighters' base pay demands

By DEBORAH CEARNAL, Clay County Line

Clay County firefighters surprised county negotiators Monday when they presented a higher base salary than initially proposed.

"We were very disappointed to receive this latest wage proposal increasing the demand from the previous one," said John Dickinson, negotiator for the county. He chose not to comment further, saying, "We [the county] continue to hold firm that bargaining should not occur in the media."

Talks ended on Aug. 30 with an exchange of wage proposals, the county offering a base rate of $25,918 for an entry-level firefighter and the union asking for $36,900. Leaving that meeting calling the county's offer "degrading," the union came back Monday seeking an even higher base pay of $37,900.

The county's offer is a 1.5 percent increase over the current salary, and would include an additional 2 percent hike in 2006 and a 2.5 percent raise in 2007. The union is negotiating for a yearly contract. The union's proposal is a step plan, with each position having a beginning wage and increasing with each year of service.

"We want to make equitable pay," Clu Wright, president of the local firefighters' union, said by phone Wednesday. "We feel they [the county] have the money to give us more," he added.

The union argues that Clay County is a mere training facility for beginning firefighters, who then leave for neighboring counties with higher wages.

The county counters by saying Clay's salary is comparable, considering the tax rate, promotional opportunities and insurance costs. A firefighter's insurance is paid by the county, with the family plan costing the individual only $100 a month. In the county's plan, promotions would bring a 10 percent increase in pay and with each five years of service firefighters would receive a lump-sum payment of $500.

The next round of negotiations is set for Sept. 22., (904) 278-9487 extension 11.