CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial inadvertently misstated the mayor's compensation, which has been raised. The salary is $103,370. The Gazette regrets the error.
Leaders of Firefighter Local 5 want voters to grant them union bargaining authority with City Hall. The request appears as issue 1 on the April 9 Colorado Springs ballot.
Our community’s elite Fire Department helps everyone sleep at night. A call to 911 reliably summons modern equipment and well-trained professionals willing to sacrifice their lives for others at a moment’s notice.
Because we count on our firefighting professionals, we pay them good wages and benefits.
Local 5 union members campaigning for union bargaining are not complaining about compensation. They have no big complaints at all, from what we can tell. The Gazette’s editorial board met with them for an hour last week and could not determine why they want to change a system that works so much in their favor.
“This is not about a pay raise,” said the deputy campaign manager for issue 1. “If this were about a pay raise, we would not expend any effort moving forward. Frankly, we just got a pay raise.”
Indeed, Firefighter 1 wages have increased by 16 percent from $68,820 in 2015 to $79,884 in 2019. During that period, the city’s contribution to each firefighter’s health insurance plan has increased by $300.
Staffing has steadily increased in recent years and will continue doing so under agreements approved by Mayor John Suthers. Advocates of union negotiations say firefighters are pleased with their access to the mayor, the fire chief and the City Council and are reliably able to express their concerns and negotiate for fair compensation and safety standards.
We pointed out that no firefighters were laid off during the Great Recession, despite deep cuts to personnel in most other departments. Again, advocates of union bargaining assured us they don’t feel deprived in terms of benefits, pay, safety standards or anything else related to their jobs.
“It ain’t broke, so why fix it?” became the theme of our questions to the union. We received no good answers.
Union leaders told us they want long-term stability. They report excellent results negotiating with the city’s first two strong mayors — Steve Bach and Suthers — but have no idea what some future mayor might do.
That concern doesn’t withstand much scrutiny. Voters scrapped the defective city manager system of governance in 2010 and created an executive branch run by a local person elected to answer to the public. Since then, Colorado Springs has gone from a dysfunctional cautionary tale to the city found most desirable in the United States by a U.S. News & World Report survey.
As seen, full-time executive mayors answer directly to residents who highly value their public safety personnel. Voters would not elect or tolerate a mayor who gives short shrift to their fire department.
Under union bargaining, important budgeting decisions would involve unelected parties who advocate exclusively for one group of employees. Be assured, if we do this for firefighters all other city departments will demand identical union arrangements.
City officials and firefighting personnel assure us recent pay raises have put our department’s remuneration among the average for other Front Range cities. Thankfully, that means our firefighters can live at an above-average standard of living. The cost of living in Colorado Springs remains far lower than in Denver, Boulder and most other Front Range cities.
Here’s what Sperling’s cost of living calculator has to say about our city’s Firefighter 1 salary.
“A salary of $79,884 in Colorado Springs, Colorado should increase to $102,031 in Denver, Colorado”
“A salary of $79,884 in Colorado Springs, Colorado should increase to $132,244 in Boulder, Colorado”
“If we examine our firefighter pay from cost of living factors, we’re considerably above other Front Range cities,” explains Suthers, who earns $103,370 a year overseeing all departments of city government.
Our quality of life and economy in Colorado Springs are the envy of the world. We have a stable government, a reasonable tax rate and city employees who earn good pay and lead good lives. If voters authorize union officials to commandeer personnel overhead decisions, they will disrupt a delicate balance that keeps this city working like a fine-tuned machine.
The system ain’t broke, so let’s not fix it. So vote no on issue 1, a solution searching for a problem.