New Orleans, LA Local 632 has spearheaded a successful effort to secure a $15 per hour minimum wage for fire fighters and paramedics, as well as all other city employees.

The New Orleans Civil Service Commission, which is responsible for city personnel, approved the raise pushed by Local 632 and other labor advocacy groups and approved by the city council, for a living wage for all city employees.

The plan, which will cost the city approximately $11 million, will raise base pay for Local 632 members by 16%, from $11.16 per hour to $15 per hour. The next step, according to Local 632 President Aaron Mischler, is for the city council to include the raises in the next municipal budget.

“This has been a long time coming. No City of New Orleans employee should live in poverty or work two or three jobs to pay their bills,” says Mischler. “When the commissioners approved the city council’s request to increase pay, I wept. Our quest to be recognized as the professionals that we are has finally come to fruition.”

The New Orleans Fire Department has been struggling for years with staffing and retention as fire fighters and paramedics there are underpaid relative to other nearby municipalities. Mischler says that since 2010, department ranks have fallen from 803 to just over 500, and seven fire stations have been closed. The declines have resulted from steady retirements and younger fire fighters leaving for better paying jobs elsewhere.

“I am so proud of the work Local 632 has done to secure pay increases for our brothers and sisters in New Orleans who are always there protecting their neighbors from any emergency, including devasting hurricanes,” says 14th District Vice President Danny Todd.

Local 632 joined with other labor organizations in a determined fight for $15 per hour after the city council passed an ordinance boosting pay for city contractors to a $15 per hour minimum. The effort included numerous marches on city hall that drew media attention to their cause. Mischler hopes the raise will help stem the tide of attrition and allow the fire department to begin rebuilding its ranks.

Looking ahead, Mischler says Local 632 will try to ink a new contract with the city as members have been working without a contract since 2011. All but a handful of issues have been resolved and he believes both sides are close to an agreement.

Local 632 also hopes to shore up fire fighter pensions and break ground on a new union hall. “We haven’t had a union home since Katrina took out the last one,” says Mischler.