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Arbitrator says give firefighters higher pay
But the county doesn't have to follow the recommendation.
By THOMAS LAKE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007
An impartial expert has concluded that Pasco County's firefighters are woefully underpaid.
He has recommended massive raises.
This may mean nothing.
Here's why: Charles Hall, the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission special magistrate who made the recommendation, did so during a round of nonbinding arbitration.
Which means the County Commission can take it or leave it.
And how often do policymakers take his advice?
"Almost never," Hall said Thursday.
The county and the firefighters union are at war. There are several issues on which they cannot reach a truce. Chief among them: wages.
As part of the arbitration, the union submitted a comparison between its firefighter pay and that of adjacent jurisdictions, including Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey. Hall looked at the numbers and found that Pasco is far behind its neighbors. For example, a captain paramedic would need nearly a 40-percent raise to bring his wages to the average for the region.
"My analysis shows Pasco County considerably below the Local Labor Market and not able to compete for the most qualified job seekers," Hall wrote Aug. 7.
His solution: union members should get a 10-percent raise retroactive to 2006, a 5-percent raise in October and another 5-percent raise one year later.
But unlike in some other states, which allow such arbitrators to make final rulings, his opinion here is only that: an opinion. County commissioners have the final say.
Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said she didn't know what the board would do with the recommendation. She said it comes at a bad time, since the county must cut its budget.
And when county personnel director Barbara DeSimone was asked to predict the likelihood of the firefighters getting such big raises, she started laughing.
Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.