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California First Responders Get Minimum Wage to Fight Wildfires

October 18, 2017

By Steve Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Sooma, Calif.—Hundreds of the men and women risking their lives to battle the massive, fast-moving wildfires devastating Northern California are being paid only $10.50 an hour for it—the state’s minimum wage. Under International Association of Firefighters Local 2881’s contract with “Cal Fire,” the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, entry-level first responders get the minimum. They get time-and-a-half overtime pay for 19 of the 72 hours a week they work during fire season, says Cal Fire Local 2881 President Mike Lopez. The union represents about 5,900 firefighters in the department. The pay disparity came about because the state minimum has risen faster than pay for higher-ranking jobs in Cal Fire, so some entry-level firefighters, who make up around 20% of the department’s 8,000 employees, were getting paid more than workers in higher positions. The union’s most recent contract raised pay for those jobs, but kept entry-level workers at the minimum, which will go up to $15 in 2022. Firefighters from local and federal agencies make more and work fewer hours each week, which causes some resentment. “We’re doing the exact same job,” said Lopez. “It becomes emotional.” Read more

October 18, 2017

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