California firefighters get shorter workweeks — however not for two years
Going through a psychological well being disaster, Cal Fireplace crews sought much less of a workload. However they’ve to attend two years beneath their new contract.
A brand new contract for California’s state firefighters consists of speedy pay raises, however delays for 2 years the shorter workweeks they needed to alleviate job-related stress.
Cal Fireplace firefighters say overwork and misery from a steady barrage of wildfires have left them with rising psychological well being issues, together with publish traumatic stress dysfunction. In an interview earlier this yr with CalMatters, Cal Fireplace Director Joe Tyler mentioned the division confronted a psychological well being disaster and known as it his high precedence.
A CalMatters investigation in June revealed widespread fatigue and trauma on the state’s firefighting company, Cal Fireplace, with firefighters describing an epidemic of suicides and suicidal ideas.
Specialists say stress from lengthy hours and harmful work triggers well being issues, extreme consuming, drug use and marital discord. Cal Fireplace doesn’t monitor suicides or PTSD amongst its ranks, however many firefighters and their supervisors informed CalMatters that the issues are rampant.
The brand new contract between the state and Cal Fireplace’s 7,000-member union establishes a 66-hour workweek, however that gained’t occur till late 2024. Firefighters presently work a 72-hour week, however typically spend weeks on obligation throughout wildfires due to the state’s obligatory time beyond regulation necessities. They often work 21-day shifts.
“Nothing for the subsequent two years will relieve these stresses,” mentioned Tim Edwards, president of Cal Fireplace union Native 2881.
Union leaders sought a 56-hour work week however reluctantly agreed to the compromise.
Edwards mentioned the membership vote to approve the pact final month was the closest he might bear in mind.
“It’s extremely irritating to my membership that we weren’t capable of solidify one thing extra stable,” Edwards mentioned.
Cal Fireplace spokesman Tony Andersen mentioned the intent of the two-year delay is to step by step rent and practice new workers so there can be enough employees to cowl gaps attributable to decreased work schedules.
The contract establishes a labor-management committee to satisfy often to debate workweek reductions and different points.
The work hours outlined within the contract are topic to funds modifications: The settlement comprises a clause that would void the reductions if the state declares a fiscal emergency and the overall fund can’t help the associated fee.
That might not be far-fetched. Not lengthy after the contract was finalized, the Legislative Analyst’s Workplace projected a $24 billion deficit for 2023-24.
“That made the membership nervous,” Edwards mentioned. “The state has to make good on its promise.”
In an emailed response to questions, Tyler mentioned psychological well being points are being addressed within the company’s subsequent strategic plan, which is presently beneath revision. He mentioned there are methods apart from shorter workweeks to cut back work-related stress, noting that impartial of the collective bargaining course of, the state added 1,500 Cal Fireplace positions in fiscal yr 2022-23 and almost 200 so-called reduction staffing positions — new hires —for the present fiscal yr.
“For anybody within the emergency response occupation, there may be all the time extra work to do within the psychological well being enviornment,” Tyler mentioned, including that the company has elevated messaging about psychological well being and inspired extra openness to reporting issues.
The contract awarded a right away 2.5% pay improve final month, a 2% elevate in January and one other 2% in June.
Edwards mentioned union officers met this week with Tyler. “I consider the director takes this (discount of labor hours) critically and is making an attempt to determine methods to make it occur,” he mentioned.
Preventing fires has develop into a year-round job in California as drought, buildup of fuels and a altering local weather render a lot of the state a tinderbox. The state spent $3.7 billion to battle fires final yr. Though this was a light yr, fires usually are rising bigger and extra harmful.
Cal Fireplace crews not solely work on wildfires across the state however in addition they employees native firehouses, serving as first-responders for 911 calls and different emergencies.
Firefighters informed CalMatters that they’ve issue accessing psychological well being take care of PTSD, a notoriously tough situation to diagnose, and should pay out of pocket for their very own care. The brand new contract offers $260 a month for “entry to well being care” to each worker enrolled within the state’s insurance coverage program.
Cal Fireplace’s behavioral well being program, which has 30 workers, assesses psychological well being wants of those that ask for it and the company often pays for intensive remedy at non-public services for workers coping with trauma or PTSD.
The union has not too long ago obtained planning approval for a 32-bed facility in Riverside County to deal with Cal Fireplace and different firefighters’ psychological well being points, Edwards mentioned. The remedy heart is predicted to start working someday subsequent yr, he mentioned.