Bipartisan legislation aims to raise overtime pay for wildland firefighters

November 6, 2023

Wildland firefighter pay cap increase proposed

In a bipartisan effort to address the pay inequities of federal wildland firefighters, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and Representative Zoe Lofgren have introduced legislation titled the “Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act.”

This bill aims to permanently raise the caps on overtime premium pay, which is a pressing issue for over 11,000 firefighters who frequently work extensive overtime to protect American communities and forests from wildfires.

Currently, many wildland firefighters are financially strained, living paycheck to paycheck due to the present pay limitations, even as they face life-threatening situations on the job.

Senator Padilla stated: “The overtime pay caps force our firefighters to make an impossible choice: walk off the line or work for free.

“And they always choose to protect communities and save lives.

“This legislation is a necessary step to make sure our firefighters continue to get fair compensation as they put their lives on the line.”

The bill garners wide support

The legislation has gained support across party lines, with co-sponsorship from Senators Steve Daines, Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Luján, Catherine Cortez Masto, Jacky Rosen, and Jon Tester. It has also received endorsements from significant organizations representing wildland firefighters.

Representative Lofgren emphasizes the need for fair compensation, saying: “Federal wildland firefighters perform dangerous, back-breaking jobs protecting our communities. Yet after they reach pay caps, they receive no overtime pay for the additional hours they work.

“Our commonsense legislation will strengthen our workforce and ensure firefighters receive the overtime pay they deserve for putting their lives on the line to protect us.”

Senator Cortez Masto supported the bill by adding: “Our federal wildland firefighters risk their lives to keep our communities safe, and this commonsense legislation will remove unfair caps that are keeping them from getting the overtime pay they deserve.”

The National Federation of Federal Employees and Grassroots Wildland Firefighters have also endorsed the proposed legislation. Randy Erwin, National President of NFFE, relayed the organization’s support: “Each year during fire season and beyond, the demand for wildland firefighters requires heavy overtime hours.

“Because overtime is so high, firefighters exceed arbitrary pay caps, and many hours of work go unpaid.”

The bill not only increases pay caps but also expands eligibility to National Weather Service meteorologists who assist during wildfires and requires a comprehensive staffing report.

It complements other federal efforts, like the recent temporary pay increase provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act proposed by Senator Padilla.

FSJA Comment

The proposed “Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act” reflects a growing acknowledgment of the tough conditions and fiscal challenges faced by wildland firefighters.

These firefighters are essential to the safety of American communities and natural resources.

Yet, they often encounter occupational hazards while being underpaid for overtime work, which can undermine their financial stability and job satisfaction.

The current vacancies in firefighting positions highlight the urgency for reform to ensure a full, effective response to wildfires.

The legislation, therefore, represents not just a pay adjustment but also a strategic move to bolster recruitment, retention, and morale in this critical workforce.

About the legislation

The “Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act” is a legislative proposal seeking to improve the compensation structure for wildland firefighters in the United States.

This bipartisan bill underscores a commitment to ensuring that those who risk their lives battling wildfires are fairly compensated for their overtime work.

The Act’s objective is to provide these firefighters with the financial recognition commensurate with the essential service they provide to the country.

Full text of the bill

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