Others do not...RAY NAGIN.

City Council again bucks Nagin
It wants two sets of raises for firefighters
Friday, September 29, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
For the second time in a month, the New Orleans City Council is breaking with Mayor Ray Nagin's administration and trying to give firefighters larger raises than the administration wants to approve.

In this case, the council is agreeing with the firefighters that they should get $2.1 million in overdue longevity raises on top of, not in place of, a 10 percent across-the-board raise that all other city workers are getting.

The council's Budget Committee endorsed that position Thursday, and the full council is almost certain to follow suit next week. But the city's Civil Service Commission needs to agree as well before the raises can take effect.


The council first voted a month ago to support giving firefighters the same 10 percent raise that police officers were in line to get. Nagin had opposed such a raise because most firefighters, under a law passed by the Legislature many years ago, get automatic 2 percent annual raises that other city workers do not receive.

After the council's vote, the administration shifted its position, announcing two weeks ago that it favored giving a 10 percent raise to city workers in all departments and setting a minimum hourly wage of $7.50.

Instead of an across-the-board 10 percent raise for firefighters, however, the administration said it planned to increase the total payroll for the Fire Department by 10 percent, with some firefighters getting as much as a 25 percent raise and some less than 1 percent, and with all the increases counted against the millions the city owes firefighters for the state-mandated 2 percent raises that the city failed for years to implement.

The firefighters protested that position, saying they should get a 10 percent raise in addition to the 2 percent longevity increases they said the city already owed them.

Panel backed Nagin

The Civil Service Commission sided with the administration last week, voting to implement the 10 percent citywide raise and the $7.50-an-hour minimum wage, but saying the Fire Department should get only a 10 percent increase in its total payroll, with the money credited against the amounts the city owes individual firefighters for past-due longevity raises.

The Budget Committee's decision Thursday to reject that position followed a 90-minute closed-door meeting attended by five council members and several top administration figures, though not Nagin.

Councilman Arnie Fielkow, who made the motion to endorse the firefighters' position that they should get both sets of raises, described the closed-door session as a "very thorough and spirited discussion."

He said the council wanted to "reaffirm very loudly" that firefighters are entitled to a 10 percent raise in addition to the millions the courts have said they are owed for the longevity raises, which the city long refused to implement, claiming the state had no right to order such raises without providing money to pay them.

Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Councilwoman Stacy Head joined Fielkow in voting for the motion. Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who is not a member of the Budget Committee but attended the meeting, also indicated her support.



Dozens of firefighters attending the committee meeting responded with a standing ovation.

The full seven-member council is expected to adopt the same position at its Oct. 5 meeting and to send the issue back to the Civil Service Commission, which is to meet Oct. 23.

Six of the commission's seven members are nominated by the presidents or chancellors of local universities and appointed by the council. The seventh is appointed by the council from among three people chosen by city workers.

Blanket raise likely

The Budget Committee also endorsed the 10 percent raise for all other workers and the $7.50 minimum wage, which is nearly $1.50 an hour more than the lowest-paid city workers have been making. If the full council goes along, as seems certain, those raises would take effect Nov. 1, although the council has said it wants the firefighters' raise to be retroactive to Sept. 1, the same day police officers got a 10 percent across-the-board raise.

The 10 percent raise before the council applies only to classified workers, but the administration and council are expected to support an ordinance providing the same increase to unclassified employees, meaning mayoral appointees not covered by Civil Service.

Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield has said the total package of increases, including the already-implemented police raises, would cost the city $3.1 million for the last four months of 2006 and $11 million for all of 2007. Giving the firefighters the additional raise retroactive to Sept. 1 would cost about another $700,000 this year and $2.1 million in 2007.
Nagin's office issued a news release Thursday night saying that since 2003, the administration has increased city employees' pay by between 17.5 percent and 20 percent, including the new 10 percent raise. By contrast, it said, from 1990 to 2000 city workers received less than 2 percent a year in raises. Nagin took office in 2002.

But the release said nothing about whether Nagin will ask the Civil Service Commission to reverse its position and approve both sets of firefighters raises. It also did not note that firefighters were excluded from the raises other city workers got under Nagin.

Nagin is a Chump.