An arbitrator has awarded raises of more than 2 percent for each of the next two years to Hawaii firefighters in a binding decision that may be the bellwether of ongoing contract negotiations with all of the state and county public worker unions this year.
Hawaii Fire Fighters Association President Robert “Bobby” Lee said the decision earlier this week also continues with salary step movement salary increases every three years for fire fighters based on their employment anniversaries.
That means about two-thirds of the union’s 2,000 members will get an extra step movement pay increase worth roughly 1 percent during the new two-year contract.
The arbitration decision awards across-the-board raises of 2 percent to the firefighters on July 1, and 2.25 percent on July 1, 2018.
Most firefighters are employed by the city and counties, which means most of the cost of the raises and fringe benefit increases will be borne by the Honolulu, Hawaii island, Maui and Kauai county governments.
However, the firefighters’ contract settlements historically have established a baseline that is often followed in awards and settlements with state’s other public worker unions.
“I think our members will be happy,” Lee said of the firefighters agreement. “We feel it’s a fair award, and we respect the bargaining process.”
He said the decision is “more than affordable” for the state and counties, and said he believes the employers are satisfied with the decision as well.
“Firefighters not only put their lives on the line every day they come to work, but they also deal with hazards that have both short and long-term health effects including heart and lung diseases, and (they) are subjected to a much higher rate of cancer than the general public,” Lee said. “They deserve everything they get and more.”
The firefighters were dissatisfied with earlier offers made by negotiators on behalf of the state, which led to a declaration of a bargaining impasse. The dispute was then submitted for binding arbitration, a process put in place to settle contract disputes because firefighters are not allowed to strike.
“I think the process was a lot tougher than it needed to be because of how the employers operated throughout the whole bargaining process, but we feel the process is fair, and we can only control our side on how we operated during the bargaining process,” Lee said.