The bomb cyclone reminds us how much we treasure our firefighters and other first responders.
Our Fire Department has one of the highest Insurance Service Office ratings possible, precisely because voters reliably elect mayors and City Council members who commit to making public safety their highest priority. They achieve this by attracting and rewarding the best firefighters and cops with excellent benefits and pay. We get what we pay for.
One unnecessary ballot measure threatens this.
Issue 1 would turn over the fate of our treasured firefighting personnel to a chapter of the IAFF union. It would “fix” a great relationship that is not broken.
To understand how much the system values the men and women of the Fire Department, consider these facts:
• More than 50 percent of the city budget pays for public safety, which few other large cities can claim.
• By 2021, the city will have added 52 employees to the Fire Department as part of a hiring program that began in 2016.
• The mayor and City Council have increased line firefighter pay from $68,000 to more than $80,000 in just four years.
• Firefighters earn $33,000 more than average adult residents of the Springs, not including routine firefighter overtime pay.
• Firefighters receive a generous defined-benefits retirement package. Unlike private-sector pensions, firefighter pensions are not threatened by economic downturns.
Our local firefighters dispute none of this. They met with The Gazette’s editorial board and had no complaints about compensation or easy access to the mayor and other city officials. They provided no good reason to change the system we have.
Colorado Springs voters consider firefighters special and are happy to pay them wages far above the community’s average.
This could easily change if Issue 1 passes. Instead of treating firefighters like family, city officials would deal with hostile union representatives and an “exclusive bargaining agent” who will probably come here from out of state. It’s like hiring a divorce lawyer to counsel happily married couples.
“Colorado Springs is very supportive of all our public safety professionals and work to ensure they are well compensated, staffed and equipped,” Mayor John Suthers said. “We do not believe unionization of our Fire Department advances this goal, nor is it in the best interest of our community and its taxpayers.”
If this issue passes, national union representatives will quickly seek an equal union bargaining arrangement for Colorado Springs cops. From there, every department in the city will demand union bargaining schemes that create tension between the community and its employees.
If citywide unionization occurs, our elected representatives will have little to do with public employee pay. City workers will become subjects of big national unions that don’t know or care about Colorado Springs. We will witness a return of the contentious relationship between city government and the governed that made our city a cautionary tale less than a decade ago.
Colorado Springs isn’t just any large city. It is, based on a credible national survey by U.S. News & World Report, the most desirable city in the United States.
Our culture, economy and way of life are about as good as it gets. Part of this results from the way we treat first responders and other public employees who dedicate themselves to this community.
To break this model, vote for Issue 1 and institutionalize conflict between firefighters and the community they serve. Make Colorado Springs more like Cleveland, Chicago or St. Louis.
To preserve our community’s enviable stature, don’t mess with success. Vote “no” on Issue 1 and preserve a system that lets voters and their representatives give firefighters the generous respect and compensation they earn and deserve.
The Gazette editorial board