EDITORIAL: Deal for firefighters step in right direction

Jan. 7—Joplin's firefighters are set to receive a salary boost under a deal approved in City Council action this week, and that's a good thing.

Joplin firefighters are to receive pay increases averaging 11.2% as the result of Joplin City Council approval Monday night of a new labor agreement reached Dec. 14 with the union local members. The raises are close to the 11.7% received by Joplin police officers after a contract with the Fraternal Order of Police went into effect in September.

Salaries for city workers across the board have been a focus for officials and the council over the past year in a highly competitive employment environment.

City employees except for police and firefighters received a 4% increase

The relatively low pay for firefighters and police officers in our city has created a significant problem with public safety hiring and retention.

City officials and the council have long sought to address the problem, though there have been a number of challenges to get to the agreement now in place.

Both firefighters and police had forged a deal with city officials last year before an election on a property tax proposal to fund larger pay raises. But Joplin voters rejected that deal, sending officials and public safety workers back to the bargaining table.

This deal sets up a stepped pay scale that should help with hiring and retention by not only improving pay but also making the path to advancement attractive and equitable. Annual longevity pay increases also provide significant incentives to keep firefighters on the job.

Firefighters with EMT certifications will start at $36,000 with raises of about $1,000 to $1,200 a year. Fire drivers/engineers start at $40,525 with raises per step starting at about $1,200 a year. Captains start at $49,000 with annual increases of about $1,400 to $1,500 per year.

Without the supplemental tax funding, the deal is not as good as the prior proposal.

Particularly, the starting wage for firefighters is low. As council member Chuck Copple, a retired firefighter, said, "I do very much applaud the raises current staff was given," but he was "disappointed in the starting wage of $12.36 for starting firefighters."

Still, the deal is a good one overall and shows city officials and council members are acting in good faith to fix a long-running challenge.

Well done.