Special Report: Firefighter perks
"The firefighters' union wants a lot more money than the city can afford to pay at this time," said Boston Fire Commissioner, Roderick Fraser, Jr.
Firefighters can be heroes, risking their lives at a moment's notice to save ours. And the danger they face is reflected in a salary hike of 4.75 percent for hazardous duty. But, under the current contract, every member of the firefighters' union gets that, even if they have a job that never requires them to go to a fire. This benefit cost the city more than four point three million dollars last year:
"That's the way the contract's written," Commissioner Fraser said.
"Isn't that nuts?" Hiller asked.
"Yeah, I think there's a lot of things that are nuts," Commissioner Fraser said.
Like being paid extra for working at night, which increases a firefighter's base salary by 9.5%. Once again, every member of the union qualifies, even if they never work after dark, in part because of their "...availability to work such night tours."
Cost to the city in 2008: $8.6 million.
Boston firefighters also get two bonuses for staying on the job.
Like many union members, they get seniority raises each year.
But they're also paid a second premium, that goes up every five years they work. Over a 35 year career, that can be worth $275,000 per firefighter.
Once again, all firefighters qualify, just by not quitting. And not many do. On average, fewer than three a year voluntarily leave the force, well under 1%.
You're looking at another perk: uniforms. The city provides them...free! But each firefighter still gets $550 a year as a uniform allowance, which they may spend maintaining their uniforms, or on anything else. This perk is paid the week before Christmas at a cost to the city of over $900,000.
And here's one final number: $91,815, the average Boston firefighter's salary last year.
"I think they have an awesome deal. I mean -- where else can you basically go to work with no high school diploma and start off making 90-thousand dollars a year? Pretty much no place," Commissioner Fraser said.
The firefighters would tell this story differently, but the union doesn't want to talk right now, because their contract is in arbitration.
Union President Ed Kelly did tell me "these are provisions in the contract and the city agreed to it."
True. But my guess is -- as the economy tanks -- so will public support for continuing to pay for these perks.
I'm Andy Hiller, 7 News.
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