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New bill seeks to avoid looming federal wildland firefighter pay cuts

Aaron Kunz

With a sharp pay cut now less than three months away for federal wildland firefighters, a new piece of legislation has been introduced to address the issue.

Independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is the sponsor of the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act. Two republicans and three democrats - all but one of whom represent Western states - are co-sponsors.

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded significant temporary raises, but those will run out at the end of September.

“Wildland firefighters in Arizona and across the country risk their lives to keep our communities safe,” Sinema said in a release. “Recognizing their sacrifice and hard work, I secured fair pay in my bipartisan infrastructure law for wildland firefighters, and now I’m ensuring this pay is permanent.”

Sinema’s bill would put in place permanent raises “at or near” those temporary bumps, according to a summary. It would create a new pay scale, as well as pay supplements for each day firefighters are deployed.

“Without any further Congressional action, wildland firefighters would again revert to earning minimum wage-level incomes,” the summary reads. “Agency leadership and firefighter associations have testified that a lack of further Congressional action would likely result in massive departures from the Federal wildland firefighter workforce this year and compromise Federal responsiveness to America’s growing wildfire crisis.”

“If we're really going to put to rest a lot of the pay and benefits issues that federal wildland firefighters face, then we have to start from somewhere,” said Jonathon Golden, a former wildland firefighter who does legislative affairs work for Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, which has been advocating for workplace reforms.

“And this is a good starting spot.”

He likened the bill to an anchor point, the place where fire crews begin building a fireline to control a blaze.

“And the work is not done,” he added.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse