Westland City Council President Pro Tempore Peter Herzberg scolded other council members for their vote in support of a contract that gives our City Fire Union a mere 1% wage increase. The 2017-2020 Contract Wage Re-Opener for our Local 1279 Fire Union was voted on by City Council in February 2019. It is unclear at this time why it was brought forward to City Council two years late. In return, Westland Firefighters will receive payment totaling the 1% increase going back two years.
“We have an employee retention problem going on in both Police and Fire, and the problem won’t be solved with a 1% increase across the board” stated Councilman Herzberg. Both the Westland Police and Fire Departments have had vacancies for certain positions over the last several months. For decades, being a Police Officer or a Fire Fighter was a dream job for many Americans, but that’s changed in recent years. The pool of candidates for these positions has shrunk dramatically in the last decade, and as neighboring cities offer higher wages and/or greater fringe benefits and insurance, it is becoming harder for Westland to compete for new and long term public safety officers.
Herzberg, the only vote against the deal, noted his disappointment in the comments made by his colleagues who complained about the details of the contract, yet voted in support. The next opportunity for our fighter fighters to get a raise won’t come for nearly two years. At that time, City Council will again make the final determination.
In a dissatisfied tone, “We could have turned this down, sent it back with our recommendations and have them bring it back with what we want, but nobody did anything” stated Herzberg in his closing comments. “I would have liked to see at least 2% or 3%.” During the same Council meeting, it was proposed to give City contract employees more than a 4% increase. That item was postponed by Councilman Adam Hammons.
During the annual budget process, Council has the ability to increase or decrease the budget for any given department but cannot dictate how much employees are paid when there is a union agreement in place. An increase in the fire departments budget would only mean that the City could hire additional firefighters or start other projects, not give raises.
Last Year, the city reported nearly a 10% fund balance, a large increase from previous budget years. With about $7 Million sitting in the bank, there’s no excuse for not bringing the wages for our firefighters up to standard with neighboring communities. These are the men and women we rely on to rescue us in an emergency, and they deserve better.