A member of an interagency firefighting crew conducts a prescribed burn "burnout" operation in Oregon to help stop the main fire from spreading.

A member of an interagency firefighting crew conducts a prescribed burn "burnout" operation in Oregon to help stop the main fire from spreading. Lance Cheung / USDA file photo

Lawmakers Work Across the Aisle to Propose Compensation Boost for 15,000 Feds

Bipartisan legislation would take into account mandatory overtime hours in calculating federal firefighters’ retirement benefits.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to correct what it calls an “injustice” in the federal pay sphere by boosting the compensation of federal firefighters.

The Federal Firefighter Pay Equity Act (H.R. 3733), introduced by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., would require the federal government to incorporate federal firefighters’ mandatory overtime hours into calculations of their retirement benefit accruals.

Currently, the federal government’s more than 15,000 firefighters work a 72-hour week, of which 19 hours are considered mandatory overtime. While these workers are paid time-and-a-half for the portion of their work week that is considered overtime, the government calculates their retirement pay as if all 72 hours were regular work time.

Connolly and Walorski said their bill seeks to bring federal policy in line with rules governing the compensation of state and local firefighters, whose mandatory overtime hours are compensated more generously in retirement benefit calculations. Connolly introduced a similar bill in 2016, but it did not receive a hearing.

“These courageous men and women work grueling hours in the most difficult of circumstances,” Connolly said in a statement. “It is our absolute responsibility to provide them with a retirement worthy of the sacrifices they have made in service to the United States.”

“Federal firefighters across the country—such as those at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana’s 2nd District—risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe,” Walorski said. “The Federal Firefighter Pay Equity Act will ensure these first responders get the full compensation and benefits they deserve.”

Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, applauded the measure.

“I greatly appreciate Reps. Connolly and Walorski’s continuing support for federal firefighters and the issues surrounding fair calculations of their earned retirement benefits,” Schaitberger said. “It is time we recognize the complete regular compensation of federal firefighters when calculating their hard earned retirement benefits.”

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said it is unacceptable that federal firefighters receive less retirement than they deserve by virtue of the current rules surrounding mandatory overtime.

“This legislation would correct the situation that has resulted in federal firefighters receiving less retirement benefits than they are owed,” he said. “Federal firefighters work in dangerous and extreme conditions, and as such they deserve to receive credit for all of the hours they work—not a partial computation based on fuzzy math.”