Federal Firefighters Face Steep Pay Cuts
Thousands of federal firefighters could face substantial pay cuts in the coming weeks, potentially hampering the country’s ability to respond to wildfires as they have grown more severe.
Federal wildland firefighters received a temporary boost to their paychecks last year, which was meant to help strained agencies offer more competitive wages to recruit and retain workers. But funding for the pay raises is set to run dry next month, and federal officials have warned that more firefighters will leave for higher-paying jobs if their salaries are slashed.
In 2021, President Joe Biden raised the minimum wage for wildland firefighters to $15 an hour from $13. Congress then agreed to increase firefighter pay by either 50% of a worker’s base salary or $20,000 a year, whichever was lower.
The typical base salary for an entry-level wildland firefighter is about $34,000 without the supplement, according to Agriculture Department data.
The temporary supplement was intended to serve as a “bridge for two years as the administration works with Congress on longer-term reforms,” according to a White House statement. While there is some bipartisan support for a permanent pay raise, it is unclear whether Congress will approve an increase.
Republicans are pushing for deep spending cuts, and disagreements over funding levels nearly led to a government shutdown late last month. The removal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House speaker has also thrown that chamber into disarray, raising the chances of a shutdown next month.
The pay cuts are looming at a moment when climate change has intensified the risk of wildfires, which have grown larger, spread faster and become more destructive in recent years. Warmer temperatures and drier conditions have also led to longer fire seasons, increasing the burden on federal firefighters who respond to both fires on federal land and assist state and local fire departments.
The federal government has long struggled to hire firefighters, largely because wages have lagged behind some state and local counterparts. Many workers could also earn more money at less strenuous jobs.
The National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents about 10,000 wildland firefighters, has estimated that 30% to 50% of the workforce could resign if salary increases end.
文／Madeleine Ngo 譯／陳曉慈
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