Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse (D) on Tuesday introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that aims to both increase the salaries of federal wildland fighters and bolster wildfire preparedness.
The Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act would seek to augment recruitment efforts, strengthen worker retention and improve employee well-being in a high-risk profession.
But if the bill fails to pass within the coming weeks, these essential workers could end up swapping raises for significant pay-cuts.
“If the provisions within this law do not pass by September 30, federal wildland firefighters will endure a pay cliff of a 50 percent cut to their base pay, up to $20,000,” Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees warned in a statement on Tuesday.
“If this happens, a mass exodus of highly specialized firefighters will begin that may be impossible to stop,” Erwin said.
Wildland firefighter salaries are now under threat because the wage hikes they received through the 2022 bipartisan infrastructure law are set to expire at the end of September.
“Our federal wildland firefighters are on the frontlines of every wildfire in our country. They are irreplaceable,” Neguse said in a statement.
“It is simply unacceptable and inexcusable for Congress to not immediately renew these provisions,” he added.
The Colorado congressman introduced the bill alongside Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Scott Franklin (R-Fla) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.).
Describing wildland firefighters as “our primary line of defense against wildfires,” Fitzpatrick stressed the importance of ensuring that these workers can keep their “critical pay increase.”
Connolly, meanwhile, declared a congressional “responsibility to provide them with fair compensation and fix this looming issue expeditiously.”
The bill’s introduction in the House follows similar action in the Senate last month, in which Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) put forward the same legislation. The Senate version was co-sponsored by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Neguse has long been pushing for the passage of what’s become known as “Tim’s Act” — a comprehensive firefighter pay and benefits bill named for Tim Hart, a smokejumper who died while battling the Eicks Fire blaze in New Mexico in May 2021.
Portions of Tim’s Act were enacted in the bipartisan infrastructure law, which created a new classification series for wildland firefighters and offered mental health services, in addition to the temporary wage hikes.
The Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act would permanently increase federal firefighter pay while opening the door to additional pay and benefit improvements that were part of Tim’s Act, according to Neguse’s office.
“While the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act is an important starting point, it cannot be the finish line,” the congressman said.
“We need to pass this legislation to ensure our federal firefighters are fairly paid, but our work is not over,” he added.
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