The City Council on Monday approved a three-year salary contract for city firefighters, providing average compensation increases estimated at 12%.
Actual salaries will go up by 9% to 20%, contract documents show. But City Manager John Thomson said the increases level out to about 12% because the city plans to gradually phase out education incentives and is eliminating contributions to firefighters' life and long-term disability insurance.
Before the contract was approved, Covina firefighters earned from $2,387 to $3,757 a month, depending on job category and seniority. Under the new pact, the range is from $3,173 to $4,406.
Under the old contract, employees received $27.50 a month in life insurance and long-term disability insurance, and were eligible for special pay of up to $207 a month for completing higher education. The life and long-term disability insurance payments have ceased, and the higher education bonus will be phased out by Jan. 1, 1992.
The contract was strongly opposed by Mayor Bob Low, who said the city will have to dip into reserve funds or cut services to fund the raises. He was the only council member to oppose the measure, which passed 4 to 1.
The new wages, retroactive to Jan. 1, will cost the city an additional $197,000 for the first six months, Thomson said, $132,000 more than was budgeted for firefighters' raises this fiscal year. The cost will go up when an additional 2% to 3% increase scheduled for July goes into effect.
Thomson told the council he probably will use money from the city's reserve funds to pay for the raises.
Last year the City Council agreed to survey firefighters' salaries in nine other cities, and to pay Covina firefighters the median amount. The cities surveyed include Alhambra, Downey and South Pasadena.
During the second year of the pact, the same cities will be surveyed twice, in January and July, and Covina salaries will automatically be adjusted to equal the prevailing median. Wages may be re-negotiated in 1992.
Low had agreed to the survey but changed his mind when he learned how much paying the median wages would cost the city.
"A parent could promise to take his child to Disneyland, but if he suddenly loses his job, he'd have to re-evaluate," he said.
Councilman Gary Coffey said the raises were necessary to keep high-caliber firefighters in Covina. "We lose them all the time to cities and counties who have more money," he said.
Firefighter union President John Gembrini said his 34 members have been paid less than their counterparts in other cities for the past three years. They received a 9% increase last year and no increases for the previous two years.