Jackson, MS Local 87 members were awarded a long overdue pay raise when the Jackson City Council unanimously approved its 2024 budget, allocating the necessary funding for the increase. The wage increases will go into effect Oct. 1.
“This was an uphill battle from the start, but our Local 87 members never lost sight of what was important and continued to fight,” said 14th District Vice President Danny Todd. “On behalf of the 14th District, I want to congratulate our Local 87 members on a job well done.”
It’s been more than five years since Local 87 signed a contract with the city and even longer since they had a pay raise. Morale has been low and fire fighter recruitment and retention has been challenging at best.
“This pay raise was a top priority for us and having it added to the city budget was a huge morale boost,” said Jackson Local 87 President RaSean Thomas. “We have a few other issues that need addressing, but this was an important first step in the right direction.”
At the advice of the IAFF and others, Local 87 leaders took steps to improve their relationships with key leaders, including Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and city council members.
“Getting this pay raise was a major win, but establishing relationships with all of the key players was just as important as maintaining those relationships will be the key to future wins,” said IAFF National Coordinator for Collective Bargaining and State Initiatives Chris “Blue” Bartley. “The IAFF will continue to work with Local 87 President Thomas and the Local 87 Executive Board to increase their influence with elected officials and community leaders and gain more wins for the members and their families.”
Although city administration officials initially expressed a willingness to come to the bargaining table, they only agreed to an evergreen clause to extend the provisions of the most recent contract.
But the wage issue had become too critical to delay any longer. On July 31, dozens of Jackson fire fighters packed city hall to demand the pay raise be included in the 2024 budget. In a presentation, they outlined what wage adjustments would be needed to help them make ends meet and bring them on par with fire departments from comparable departments.
Keeping the pressure up, several Jackson fire fighters engaged in a sick-out protest for three weeks in August.
“More than two decades without a significant wage increase was long enough,” said Thomas. “Our members work day in and day out to protect the city. But they always get passed over. It was time for the city to stop kicking the can down the road and take care of our members.”
The move did get some pushback from the fire chief, who issued a memo stating the leave was not authorized for fire fighters and would not be treated as such. However, as this would constitute a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, Lumumba intervened and demanded the fire administration treat the leave as outlined in the contract.
The stalemate over wages finally ended when the city administration found ways to shift money in the city budget to increase fire fighter pay.
A large portion of the money was found within the fire department budget. The city’s minimum staffing requirements call for three fire fighters per apparatus, but the budget provisionally allows for four. Instead of filling those fourth positions, the money has been used to pay for other city expenses.
While that money will still not go to fill open positions, it will now go toward funding the wage increases – an additional $8-10 thousand annually, depending on rank.
Going forward, Local 87 leaders will continue to work toward negotiating a new contract to include improvements in longevity pay and other new provisions by building upon the relationships established during this process.