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McLean floats taking back raises promised to first responders

McLean floats taking back raises promised to first responders

Matt Tobeck
December 21, 2020
December 21, 2020

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean has quietly asked Boise police and fire unions forgo this year’s promised pay raises to first responders. The mayor’s request came immediately after the city council set the budget for FY2021 and long after collective bargaining agreements the city signed two years ago with unions representing police and firefighters that provide for pay increases. 

McLean’s letter, in which she makes wage concession requests of both police and fire employees, asks for a voluntary 2% wage concession from firefighters and 1.65% from police officers. The beginning wage for a Boise firefighter is about $58,120. That means, if agreed to, an entry level firefighter would be receiving about $1,160 less in wages this year. An entry level police officer making $62,359 would forego about $1,029.. 

Both letters, sent in September and signed by McLean, read, “As you are aware, the City is experiencing both a revenue shortfall and unanticipated expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City seeks $2.25M in salary savings to balance the FY2021 and beyond budgets.” The letters conclude, “By agreeing to this wage concession, the Union will help the City balance its budget and avoid cutting projects, programs and staff.”

The FY2021 budget makes similar observations regarding both revenue as well as potential added COVID-19 expenses. This certainly begs the question: How is it not negligent for the city to budget for “compensation adjustments” that the budget claims have not been agreed to, and after those salary reductions are budgeted, to then ask police and fire employees to agree to voluntarily forgo pay increases? 

As a related matter, one can certainly make the argument that salaries for city employees should not be negotiated so far in advance, and should not include year-over-year salary increases, as is the case here. What sense does it make, after all, to budget so far in advance without any party knowing for sure what the financial circumstances of the city will be years in the future? 

That said, the already negotiated salaries of both BFD and BPD employees were fully known at the time Boise’s FY2021 budget was passed. It, therefore, makes little sense to not fully factor those salaries into the budget.

Regardless of McLean’s request, it appears, unsurprisingly, that neither BFD nor BPD union membership agreed to the wage concession request.

When asked about the final resolution of McLean’s request, Mike Bisagno, President of the IAFF Local 149, the union for Boise firefighters, responded that he informed McLean that her request could only be entertained under the state’s collective bargaining process, that is, if the city wished to proceed with its request. According to Bisagno, after informing the mayor’s office that this process would have to be utilized, the mayor’s office subsequently failed to contact him again on the issue.

Similarly, Chad Wigington, President of the IBPO Local 486, the union for Boise police, responded that he intended to call for a special meeting of union members at which they would either approve or deny the request by ballot.

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