Wichita firefighters rally for better pay amid contract negotiations

The local union said it's not asking to be the highest paid department out there, but wants the Wichita FD to be in the ballpark with similar departments.
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 5:46 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Wichita firefighters on Tuesday rallied at City Hall in protest of their pay amid current contract negotiations with the city.

The local union said they’re not asking to be the highest paid department out there, but they want the Wichita Fire Department to be in the ballpark of what other comparable Midwest departments are getting paid. Oklahoma City firefighters start at more than $23 per hour, Omaha starts at nearly $21 per hour and De Moines is at more than $25 per hour to start.

Currently Wichita’s starting pay for a firefighter is $15.74 per hour. That’s about 30 percent less than what some departments in the region offer.

Wichita firefighters rallied Tuesday in hopes the city manager’s office will hear them.

“Look at the comparable cities all over Kansas and really, all over the Midwest. We are underpaid and understaffed,” said Wichita Fire Department Captain Rock Bumgarner, with WFD for nearly 20 years. “There is no argument of that. If the city has different numbers, I’d welcome them.”

Eyewitness News sat down wit the Local 135 Union president and vice president before Tuesday’s rally. The Wichita fire union and the city of Wichita are in contract negotiations. Salary increases were the first issue the union says it brought to the table knowing the city budget would be set near the time negotiations were happening.

But the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 135 Union President Ted Bush claims the city intentionally delays negotiations until money is already set in the budget.

“We offered them on the first day three weeks ago and never received an offer ever since,” Bush said. “We feel going back to the historic way of negotiating a contact is kind of delay, delay until we talk about money. Normally, money is last. You know, so when the budget is set, there’s not much wiggle room to make up for the compensation.”

The union wants a salary increase of 30 percent. Doing the math, that puts starting pay at a little more than $20 an hour, which is still on the lower end compared to other Midwest cities.

“It doesn’t put us above the industry standards as far as the Midwest. It honestly to some aspect doesn’t even catch us up to a lot of those departments but it puts us at least in the ballpark,” IAFF Local 135 Union Vice President Dustin Winter said.

Because of this, many work multiple jobs. Emily Newby’s husband works on the department, along with two other jobs. She said a new and better contract would help her family.

“I’d get to see my husband more. He’d get to spend time with his son, spend time with his family,” Newby said. “I mean, it’s just not fair.”

Some city leaders voiced agreement that firefighter pay should be better.

“Let’s make sure we’re paying our firefighters more than any other city,” Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said.

Contract decisions will ultimately be up to Wichita City Manager Robert Layton.

“I think the city manager, that’s where it starts and stops. He’s the one that’s going to approve the contract, he’s their lead negotiator,” Bumgarner said. “I think he needs to step up. He’s been here awhile now. I think he need to step up and fund the fire department appropriately.

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