My View: Discrepancy Between Police and Fire Pay Persists


Weist-PioneerBack in May of 2009, the Vanguard wrote an article entitled Why Do Firefighters Make Substantially More Than Police Officers in Davis?.  The article not only reports on the discrepancy in pay, but the questions that then Councilmember Lamar Heystek asked of then City Manager Bill Emlen.

This week, we have learned that the pay discrepancy persists.  According to city records, a firefighter in the city of Davis makes $7,748.10 per month in salary, while the police officer makes $6,752.37 per month in salary.

This is the base salary.  It does not include the tens of thousands of hours of overtime, their pensions, their health care, their retirement health care, or their cafeteria cash outs.

Compare that to Woodland, where police officers and firefighters make about the same in salary compensation.

In fact, in Woodland, a police officer makes $6,782.62, about the same as in Davis.  However, a firefighter in Woodland makes just $6,536 – or $1,200 less per month than the police counterpart.

If you calculate the monthly differential of $1,000 out to a full year, that’s a $12,000 discrepancy multiplied across dozens of personnel.  That discrepancy alone accounts for over $400,000 – or well over the amount of savings the personnel reductions would save.

In other words, as we noted earlier this week, if firefighters agreed to take concessions and make what police officers in the city of Davis make, the city might not need to reduce staffing.

However to understand the true story here we need to look toward the why.

The why starts with a look at the MOU signed back in 2005 by the firefighters.  Back then, the firefighters signed a four-year agreement that would give them a whopping 36% salary increase.  That does not include overtime, pensions, health insurance or any benefits; that is a straight salary increase, including a 10% salary increase in 2005.

The police, on the other hand, got a much more modest 18% pay increase including a 6% pay increase in 2006 to 2007.

You might ask, why such a big pay increase?  The answer is political influence.  In the year 2000, firefighters contributed a modest $1775 to council candidates.  In 2002 that number shot up to a still-modest $3189, but in 2004, firefighters gave a whopping $10,900 in direct contributions and another nearly $1500 in the form of an independent expenditure.

That was the start of the disproportionate political influence by the firefighters, that saw the local firefighters union contribute nearly $42,000 to council candidates directly and indirectly, as compared to $8900 by police.

The result of that political influence is that salaries, that in 2000 were nearly identical, became heavily swayed toward firefighters after the 2005 MOU.

The stunning aspect of that contract is that in 2004 the council passed a half-cent sales tax that was sold to the public as necessary to prevent cuts to parks and public safety.  A year later, the council took that approximately $3 million in revenue and simply gave it to the firefighters in the form of the salary increases.  The four-year increase in salary over the course of that MOU nearly matched the annual revenue generated by the sales tax.

From 2002 until 2008, firefighters elected 7 of the 9 councilmembers.  Only Lamar Heystek in 2006 and Sue Greenwald in 2008 were elected over that time without firefighter endorsement, but in 2010 that well went dry when Joe Krovoza announced he would not take money from entities that the city would be dealing with.

In 2010 and 2012, no one took firefighter money or endorsements.

Some people want to put the blame on the council, arguing that it is the job of the union and the union leadership to push council to ask for raises and better contract.  They argue it is not the asker that should be admonished, but rather those who say yes or no.

But that viewpoint overlooks a critical flaw.

As Rich Rifkin wrote on the Vanguard this week: “The fire union has not simply been ‘asking’ for more money and better benefits and the rest. The fire union has been actively corrupting every member of the city council that it could, with massive amounts of direct contributions and equally massive indirect efforts, in order to get pliant members of the council to hand them everything including the kitchen sink.”

We may choose a less loaded term than corrupt, but the fact is that the firefighters used their influence to elect members to the city council who would do their bidding – councilmembers who would support four firefighters on an engine, support 3% at 50, support a fourth fire station, support huge pay increases, support phony bait and switch cost-cutting efforts like the battalion chief, and who would look the other way on a 3-2 vote as the firefighters commit serious wrongdoing.

The firefighters did not simply ask for these things, they created a system where they would get these things.

So, now that their well has dried up, they are complaining that they were left out of the process when former Interim Chief Scott Kenley audited the fire department and created a new staffing model.

Bobby Weist, the union president, and his membership have been trying to rally the public to their side, holding a public meeting with scant attendance and directing people to write the council.

But what Mr. Weist did not tell the few people who came to Pioneer Elementary is that the city has a budget crisis.  They were forced to make $8 million in cuts this last year.  They have a growing crisis with deferred infrastructure maintenance on things like roads.

But most importantly what Mr. Weist never said is that the firefighters union is one of only two bargaining units in the city that have not taken their concessions.  So they want to fight staffing changes without taking their fair share in pay cuts.

There is a way that they can avoid the reduction from 12 to 11 firefighters – they can take the same salary as police officers.

But, in a way, reducing the number of personnel from 12 to 11 does not go nearly far enough.  Most stations in California manage to serve their public quite well with three on an engine.  As we have shown, Davis has one of the lowest rates of calls for service per capita in the state, and an even lower number of fires per capita.

If we reduce the shift size from 12 to 10, we can save nearly three-quarters of a million per year.  That is money that can go to pay for our neglected roads and other infrastructure that we have deferred payments on because of the huge salary increases the firefighters got nearly a decade ago.

But your representatives in city hall need to hear from you.  If you support sensible staffing reductions in the fire department, contact the city council and let them know.  It is time that we take back our government from the excesses of the last decade.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “My View: Discrepancy Between Police and Fire Pay Persists”

  1. JimmysDaughter

    Police risk heart disease (they have to spend many hours sitting, wish they could “walk the beat” more, like in the old days. That really helped them get aquainted with a neighborhood). Police are at an off the charts risk for stress. Firefighters are at risk for stress & asbestosis, lung disease, knee and back injuries. Both professions can die on the job at any moment. A fire fighter is sometimes the first one at the scene for an injury & provides medical attention, too. Overall, it almost seems like firefighters have more long term health risks, with the chemical and smoke exposure factured in. I believe we should pay the firefighters their salaries. They provide a service that every single person in Davis needs. And they are kind, too, unlike many of the police officers in Yolo county.

    What other positions at City Hall could be examined? Anyone who used to work at City Hall care to give the readers an inside look at this?

  2. hpierce

    David/Highbeam… may want to check the figures in the ~ 5th/6th paragraphs… something is wrong. This does not imply that there is anything “wrong” with the rest of the ‘analysis.

  3. biddlin

    Both groups are certainly overpaid in terms of hours actually worked . Tree trimmers and powerline workers are at far more risk of injury or death in the line of duty, but it makes local pols look bad if they don’t support their local police . The FFs in Davis have been singled out by David because they managed a “me too and a penny more” MOU ! Considering the cost of a decent house in Davis, I assume many in both groups must commute to make ends meet, even on what David considers excessive income . Easy targets .

  4. SouthofDavis

    JimmysDaughter wrote:

    > Police risk heart disease (they have to spend
    > many hours sitting, wish they could “walk the
    > beat” more, like in the old days.

    Everyone is at risk of heart disease and it kills more Americans than anything else (I just heard this last month on NPR since February was “healthy heart month”). As someone who has spent most of my life at a desk I can tell you that almost everyone wants to get out and move around more (I’m not saying that doing an 8 hour stake out looking for a killer os spending hours writing reports is easy, but it is not just cops getting heart disease since they sit around more than they would like).

    > Both professions can die on the job at any moment.

    People in ANY profession can “die on the job at any moment” (like the teachers at the school back east not long ago). The good news for cops and fireman is that thet don’t die on the job very often (far less than construction workers, roofers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, loggers and farm workers and many many others).

    > I believe we should pay the firefighters their
    > salaries.

    I don’t think that anyone has said we should not “pay the firefighters”. we just need to pay them a fair wage. As a city we should not be taxing people that are barely making ends meet to pay someone 25% more than we have to (I’m betting not a single firemen that cannot retire would leave if we had a 25% pay cut, and if one did leave we would have 100+ qualified applicants to pick from when the city was flooded at resumes for the job at the new pay that is still well above what the average FAMILY in America makes every year).

  5. Avatar


    When you attended the firefighters informational meeting , did you go to them too ask all the questions that you have ?
    Or did you just run inside and snap a picture ?

  6. JimmysDaughter

    I think F.F. wages are fair for the danger they encounter. Maybe the tree cutters should get stronger labor voice if they are doing a dangerous, life threatening job & not getting properly compensated for it. I’d want the F.F.’s living close to the expensive town of Davis if they are tasked to fight fires in Davis. Davis F.F.’s should be paid more because housing costs more in Davis than in Woodland. People who rent their houses at ridiculous rents, say, $2000 a month, know that 4 students will each pay $500 a month to rent in Davis & ride their bike to campus. A family cannot split their rent that way. So rents creep up. Many wealthy landowners don’t make proper repairs to their rentals, and are bullies. The sky-high cost of housing in Davis is driving salaries. But very little is done about the greedy land owners in Davis. The high cost of housing is related to the firefighter’s salaries and other economic issues n Davis.

  7. JimmysDaughter

    I used to be a workers comp adjuster and it was horrible to adjust the medical claim of someone suffering asbestosis of the lungs. I have spoken to their family members, and it is heart breaking. The F.F.’s earn every cent they make.

  8. JimmysDaughter

    “If we reduce the shift size from 12 to 10, we can save nearly three-quarters of a million per year. That is money that can go to pay for our neglected roads and other infrastructure that we have deferred payments on because of the huge salary increases the firefighters got nearly a decade ago.”

    What other positions at City Hall could be examined? I would want my home & pets & family safe from a fire & maybe another few positions at City Hall examined before I would give up that safety. As I mentioned before, a few years ago there was a fire in the field directly behind Albany Circle & the firefighters in South Davis saved several homes, pets and lives.

  9. wesley506

    Here are some other Davis Civil Service salaries per the city web site:

    Firefighter: [b]7748[/b]
    Police Officer: [b]6752[/b]
    Administrative Analyst II: [b]6783[/b]
    Administrative Services manager: [b]9875[/b]
    Bike/pedestraian Coordinator: [b]7146[/b]
    Child Care Manager: [b]7123[/b]
    Community Development Administrator: [b]9875[/b]
    Environment Compliance Coordinator: [b]7835[/b]
    Grants & Evaluation Coordinator: [b]7462[/b]
    Human Resources analyst II: [b]6783[/b]
    Sustainabilyt Program Coordinator: [b]8705[/b]
    Urban Forest Manager: [b]7835[/b]

    I think the risk of a significant on the job injury for a public safety person is a little more than for a Child Care manager, Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator or any one of these similarly paid classifications. there are opportunities to work the system for additional gain by public safety and I do not know what the other MOUs say, but I suspect there are ample opportunities for everyone else to sweeten the pot.

  10. hpierce

    Risk is an interesting topic, re: “safety” personnel… their PERS benefits are quite protective of them and their families, if they were to become disabled or die prior to retirement… unlike those listed in wesley’s post.

    Yet, the only job-related deaths that I am aware of in the past 15 years, either during service or in retirement, were Public Works employees, not Public safety.

  11. JimmysDaughter

    HPierce, The latency period for certain diseases is quite long. And we really can’t publish too much on this website re: medical issues. It would be morally (and probably legally) wrong to discuss anyone’s personal medical records, even if that person’s name wasn’t mentioned, IMO.

  12. biddlin

    Of course medical and employment records are classified, but the Dept. of Labor’s statistics aren’t . Cops have about the lowest “Death in the line of duty” risk of any public employees . Urban forestry workers are at greatest risk .

  13. medwoman

    JimmysDaughter and biddlin

    I think that there are two very distinctly different issues here one of which seems to capture the public attention and be covered by insurance, the other, not so much so.

    “Death in the line of duty” is something most everyone can relate to, empathize with, and agree should be compensated. Death because of years spent in the line of duty with exposure to toxins, smoke and other particulates which cause chronic lung and cumulative cardiovascular damage, not so much so. Like JimmysDaughter I have seen the long term effects, which frequently are not adequately covered or compensated.I do not begrudge what some see as overcompensation for workers in these professions, at least until such time as our society is willing to meet the essential needs of all of our citizens.

  14. biddlin

    medwoman-With all due respect, I am a longtime parks and public works maintenance worker, who drove heavy equipment, doing heavy lifting, climbing, both trees and into and out of high entry vehicles for twenty-five years . I collapsed on the job with what the [u]City’s [/u]appointed comp MD. called the worst Achilles’ tendon rupture he’d ever seen and undoubtedly the result of years of repetitive stress, with a prognosis for a long recovery and limited correction in a man of my age . None the less, it took two years and lots of money from my savings, to finally get the city to approve a medical retirement . I don’t begrudge anyone their full benefits . I simply point out the myths of “First Responders” being at greater risks of injury or death . If we really based compensation on those factors, cabbies and janitors would be among the best paid workers in our society . Frankly, knowing a couple of current and former Davis parks employees, I know that they feel a great deal of elitism from the city that they work for, but cannot afford to own a home in and that The Vanguard seems to miss no opportunity to scapegoat the city’s workers .
    Biddlin ;>)/

  15. medwoman


    I fully respect and agree with most of your points. And I saved my most important point for the last line of my previous post. I believe that in a society with as much wealth as we have, their is no reason that any individual, regardless of their employment status should have to fight for medical leave, medical retirement or indeed any kind of medical care. We, as a society have plenty, we just choose to distribute the wealth in a highly stratified manner of which I personally do not approve.

    As for the Vanguard missing no opportunity to scapegoat the city’s workers, I think that may be true for the firefighters, however, I think you are on shakier ground with regard to scapegoating other worker groups.
    Can you give examples I may have forgotten or over looked ?

  16. biddlin

    I’m not able to devote much time to researching the archives as I’m under pressure to finish some rewrites, but pick just about any of David’s editorials re city budget and it’s the employees fault or responsibility to correct .

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