The spouses and families of about 60 firefighters converged on City Hall on Wednesday night to let city councilors know they are not happy with the city’s latest contract offer.
The city and firefighters union Local 176 are scheduled to go to arbitration Dec. 3. The union declared an impasse in negotiations in September.
“It is incredibly unfortunate that it takes something like this. It takes families; it takes spouses; it takes kids just reaching out asking for a forum to try and move the needle,” Local 176 President Matt Lay said after the City Council meeting.
The main issue keeping the parties apart is wages, Lay told firefighters in an email after the impasse was announced.
Lay noted that the city’s fiscal year 2022 contract with the police union includes a record $8.3 million a year increase in wages and benefits and that the city has agreed to a contract with 911 dispatchers that provides an across-the-board 10% wage increase.
“Let me say categorically that no proposal even remotely resembling the scale of these wage increases has been offered to firefighters,” Lay wrote. “Said another way, while every other public safety element in the city of Tulsa has seen significant investment into its personnel, Tulsa firefighters have been intentionally disregarded.”
The Mayor’s Office declined to comment for this story.
According to 2020 figures compiled by the union, Tulsa firefighters’ average monthly wage of $6,144 — or $73,728 a year — ranks 16th in the state despite the fact that Tulsa is the second largest city in the state and the Tulsa Fire Department responds to the second most calls in the state.
Oklahoma City ranks first in population and calls.
A comparison of 2020 wages and benefits paid to firefighters in comparable-size cities, including Oklahoma City; Wichita, Kansas; and Tucson, Arizona, found that Tulsa firefighters ranked 10th out of 11, according to the union.
Figures provided by the city show that the average satisfactory pay increase for eligible firefighters ranged from 6.67% to 7.26% between fiscal years 2017 and 2021; during the same time period, the average satisfactory pay increase for eligible police officers ranged from 3.30% to 6.75%.
The police union’s FY 2022 collective bargaining agreement with the city provides significant pay increases across the board, including an $8,731-a-year increase in starting pay for new officers, taking entry pay to $57,942. The maximum annual salary for officers also increases by $6,000, going to $79,990.
A new firefighter earns $39,179 and maxes out at $66,268, Lay said. Firefighters, unlike police officers, are not required to have a bachelor’s degree.
“I don’t want there to be any misconceptions about mine or anyone I’ve spoken to on the raises,” Morgan Caywood told councilors. “We support them. We just believe the Fire Department deserves them, also.”
Caywood, whose husband, Bo Caywood, is a firefighter, said she has heard Mayor G.T. Bynum refer to the Tulsa Fire Department as the best in the country but that she’s starting to wonder if he means it.
“There was a saying I heard a lot growing up, and that was, ‘Actions speak louder than words,’” Caywood said. “Right now I am hearing all praise and no raise, and that feels disingenuous to me.”
Bynum did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
City councilors do not participate in contract negotiations with city employee unions, but several councilors on Wednesday made clear that they back the firefighters.
“There are a number of firefighters in this room who know where I stand on supporting our firefighters,” said Councilor Connie Dodson.