Courtesy photos

Between combating COVID-19 and battling record-breaking wildland blazes, the demand on local firefighters has never been higher. Yet as the pandemic increases the City’s budget deficit, firefighters have agreed to a series of salary and benefit cuts to preserve emergency services for the community.

Under the Memoranda of Understanding approved in a Sept. 8 City Council meeting, firefighters’ salaries will be reduced by 2.5 percent until June 30, 2021. In the following year the reduction will be 1 percent until June 30, 2022, after which point salaries are set to revert to the base salaries of June 30, 2020.

These cuts, in combination with adjustments to sick leave cash-out and compensatory time off, will save the City $1,456,739 in the General Fund and $171,932 in other funds over the next two fiscal years. This will help the City tackle a projected $176 million deficit in the General Fund over the next two fiscal years.

“The response to the revenue shortfalls was a painful endeavor, a pain that was shared by all. The City Manager Lane Dilg took over at an unimaginable time, and I believe she did an unbelievable job in keeping folks together while moving forward,” said Dom Bei, the President of Local 1109 Union of Santa Monica Firefighters. “I am most proud of our firefighters for having the maturity and foresight to work collaboratively with the city, and contribute from the front lines.”

During the negotiation process, which began on May 21, the City initially earmarked eliminating 10 firefighter positions. However, by firefighters collectively agreeing to take salary cuts, the City will only need to eliminate one Assistant Fire Marshal position when it next becomes vacant.

“One of the tougher tasks of my career as Union President, was asking your Santa Monica firefighters to take a salary cut at a time when never has more been asked of them in the line of duty. Battling COVID-19 daily, days like May 31st, with over 12 fires in one day, rising homelessness calls, all on top of the normal risks associated with the job,” said Bei.

In addition to the salary cuts, union members have agreed to a decrease in accrual caps for compensatory time off until the MOU expires on June 30, 2023. Caps have decreased from 240 to 144 hours for those on a fire suppression schedule and from 120 to 72 hours for those on an administrative work schedule.

The City has eliminated the sick leave cash-out program during the duration of the MOU and compensated union members with 40 additional hours of sick leave a year. This step is intended to both increase budget savings and eliminate a monetary incentive for people to work while sick during the pandemic.

“The Santa Monica firefighters are committed to the City of Santa Monica for the long haul,” said Johnny Maccini, Santa Monica Fire Captain. “We all took an oath when we received our badge. The oath was a promise to put the Santa Monica citizens first. For our members, this was a sacrifice that needed to be made for the benefit of the people we serve, to protect lives and property, and save positions that maintain public safety.”

Clara@smdp.com