Lofgren, Padilla introduce bill to increase overtime pay cap for wildland firefighters

SANTA CRUZ, CA — The wildfire season in California in 2023 may have been less severe overall than in previous years, but that does not mean the risk of wildfires has gone away. Every summer, federal firefighters will be on high alert, ready to respond if a large fire breaks out.

However, there is a cap on how much firefighters can be paid, which legislators argue is insufficient to compensate them for the work they do. U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced the bicameral Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act on Thursday, which would raise overtime pay caps to allow U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior firefighters to be paid more.

The bill seeks to raise the total possible take-home pay from General Schedule Step 10 to Senior Executive Service II, to expand eligible employees to include National Weather Service meteorologists who deploy with firefighters for the hours they work on wildfires, and to require a joint report from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and the National Weather Service on the necessary staffing levels of wildland firefighting missions and inci It would build on previous legislation, such as Padilla’s Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, which was introduced in July to permanently raise wildland firefighter salaries.

According to Padilla’s office, approximately 20% of Forest Service permanent firefighter positions are currently unfilled, which he attributes to the federal government’s inability to compete with state and local fire department salaries.

“As increasingly devastating wildfire seasons scorch our forests and endanger communities across the West, our federal wildland firefighting force deserves our full support for their heroic, dangerous work on the frontlines to keep us safe,” Padilla said in a prepared statement. “Due to overtime pay caps, our firefighters are forced to make an impossible choice: walk off the job or work for free.” And they always make the decision to protect communities and save lives. This legislation is a necessary step toward ensuring that our firefighters continue to be fairly compensated for putting their lives on the line.”

In the House, Padilla is joined by Lofgren as the primary sponsor. Lofgren’s district includes Watsonville, and she is the chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation.

“Federal wildland firefighters perform dangerous, back-breaking jobs protecting our communities,” she stated in a statement. “However, once they reach their pay caps, they receive no overtime pay for the extra hours they work.” Our commonsense legislation will strengthen our workforce and ensure that firefighters receive the overtime pay they deserve for risking their lives to protect us. It is the right thing to do for firefighters, their families, and our communities to remove this cap.”

Several Western senators, including Montana’s Steve Daines and Jon Tester, New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and Nevada’s Jacky Rosen, have co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. It is co-sponsored in the House by California Representatives Nanette Barragán, Julia Brownley, Mark DeSaulnier, Ted Lieu, and Adam Schiff, and it is led by California Representatives Jared Huffman, Jimmy Panetta, Scott Peters, Katie Porter, and Mike Thompson, as well as Colorado Representative Joe Neguse.

Padilla.senate.gov contains the full text of the bill.

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