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Subase firefighters object to low wages

"About 40 firefighters and rescue workers from several Kitsap County fire departments and unions conducted several hours of informational picketing outside the Trigger gate at Subase Bangor Saturday, Aug. 26.It was the second weekend firefighters turned out to show solidarity with the 35 Puget Sound Federal Fire Department firefighters who staff two stations on Subase Bangor and one at the Jackson Park Navy Housing Complex. The firefighters work for Johnson Controls World Services Inc., the private firm that contracts with the Department of Defense to provide services at Subase Bangor.The firefighters, represented by a bargaining unit of the United Steelworkers of America Local 9241, were seeking wage parity with fire departments within the communities they serve - Poulsbo, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Central Kitsap, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport and Bremerton, according to union activist Mike Hennesy.They're paid way under what the average Department of Labor rate is in our area, here in Kitsap County and Jefferson County. The Department of Labor determines that the average wage for this area for a firefighter is $19.55, and these guys are at $14.77 an hour, Hennesy said. The larger issue, he added, is that the Subase firefighters work a 24-hour shift, but only get paid for 16. That situation is not found at any other fire department in Washington, according to Hennesy. During that day-long shift, they cannot leave the fire station other than to respond to an emergency call. They're paid for 16. But not the other eight. They're only paid if there is a fire, otherwise they sit in that firehouse and they can't do anything. What that works out to is that they work 72 hours a week, paid for 48. The other fire departments work a 56-hour week and are paid for 56 hours, Hennesy said. Although their full contract is not due to be renewed until fall 2001, the union is at the bargaining table for a wage and benefits opening period, which allows for adjustments when large fluctuations or losses from the original contract affect employees. On the table are discussions on whether firefighters should be paid for what is called liberal standby - when the shift and equipment is passed to the next crew - and lunch break. Giving up those two items would cost each firefighter about three and a half hours of pay per shift. Johnson Controls also wanted to increase the number of part-time employees it could hire. The last offer they made, which was Friday (Aug. 25), was three percent across the board (pay raise), and that their current contract would remain the same and that was it. The firefighters voted it down overwhelmingly, which means that what they have in place right now, is what they will live with for the next year, Hennesy said. When their current full contract expires next year, the 35 employees would have the option to strike. "

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