June 30, 2021

Neguse Helps Introduce Bill to Waive Overtime Pay Caps for Wildland Firefighters, Ensure Permanent Fair Pay

Washington, DC – Today, coinciding with the reported announcement by President Biden to raise federal firefighter pay, Congressman Joe Neguse, founder and Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, joined Reps. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Scott Peters (CA-52), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), and Katie Porter (CA-45) in introducing the Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, to waive annual premium pay caps for federal firefighters working overtime to battle increasingly intense wildfires. The bill also calls for a reevaluation of employment classifications and pay structure in recognition of growing demands.

Federal firefighters who work for the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are paid on the general schedule pay scale based on their seniority and performance. They make a base salary and are paid overtime when they exceed eight hours a day. However, there is an annual salary cap that limits how many overtime hours for which they can be paid. During wildfire season, many federally employed firefighters exceed the annual pay cap and receive no pay for additional overtime hours worked, while others are forced to pay back money they rightfully earned fighting wildfires.

“Colorado has experienced record-setting wildfires in the past year, and climate change threatens to make the 2021 wildfire season even worse,” said Congressman Neguse. “With wildfire seasons blending into wildfire years, it is our responsibility in Congress to ensure we make it easier, not harder, to respond. Firefighters risk their lives to protect our communities, and it is long past time we pay them the wages they deserve. Waiving the overtime pay cap for our federal firefighters is a step in the right direction.”

“The 2021 fire season has already begun, and it’s on pace to be much worse than the historic season observed across the West last year,” said Congresswoman Lofgren. “We’re going to need more firefighters serving our communities, so Congress needs to ensure the federal service earns a fair wage and that we remove obstacles that make it harder for our country to respond to wildfires. Eliminating this cap as another, sadly, disastrous wildfire year kicks off is the right thing to do for the firefighting workforce and for our communities.”

The current overtime pay cap serves as a disincentive for many experienced firefighters who would deploy to wildfire incidents, especially later in the fire season. The Forest Service estimates that up to 500 senior-level firefighters either stop participating or do not request pay for hours worked once they reach the pay cap. This has a significant effect on federal wildfire response capabilities, especially as wildfire seasons continue to grow longer.

The Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act is the House companion to S.138, legislation sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The bill also directs the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to submit a report on the resources, policies, personnel or structural changes, and other investments necessary to support an expanded, year-round firefighting workforce. It is the first step to a paradigm shift in forest management to create longer-term solutions for our firefighters and communities.

Click here for the full text of the Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act.

Background

As Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Congressman Neguse has made tackling western wildfires a key component of his “Restoring Our Lands and Communities” Agenda. Congressman Neguse’s proposal to launch a reimagined 21st Century Climate Conservation Corps would make historic investments in wildfire suppression, mitigation, resilience and response. Earlier this year, Neguse launched the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus to elevate conversations around this issue in Congress. He is leading the Wildfire Recovery Act and Climate Resilient Communities Act, legislation to help communities build back better in the wake of wildfires and flooding. 

In 2020 as Colorado experienced a record wildfire season, Congressman Neguse worked in close coordination with local firefighters and emergency management officials to ensure that communities in the 2nd Congressional District had the federal funds they needed to contain these wildfires and recover. He helped secure FEMA funds for containment efforts of the Calwood, East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires. In January, Congressman Neguse helped secure a disaster declaration designation for Colorado’s wildfires to bring in more resources for the state. In April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, Congressman Neguse was successful in ensuring firefighters and first responders be given priority for COVID-19 tests. 

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