Complaining that they're not getting the same treatment as their counterparts in the Sheriff's Department, more than 100 Ventura County firefighters packed the Board of Supervisors chambers Tuesday, demanding a bigger pay raise as part of a new contract.
Representatives of the 375-member Ventura County Professional Firefighters Assn. told the board they had reached an impasse because county negotiators have refused to discuss their demands during the 3-month-old talks for a new contract.
A mediator did not succeed in smoothing out differences, and the firefighters' current contract is set to end June 30.
The firefighters are demanding that increases be determined using a formula that compares their pay with that of other firefighters in the region.
The county has agreed to use such a system when determining the pay of deputies, comparing their salries to those of other law-enforcement officers in Southern California.
"We were promised that we would be treated the same as the sheriff's, and we weren't," said union President Carroll Hoiness. "The fire district has funds, the county has funds. We believe we have been good employees, and we've waited our turn, but enough is enough."
Barbara Journet, the county's human resources director, defended the negotiations, saying county officials are trying their best to reach a reasonable compromise.
County officials have agreed to develop a formula comparing pay and benefits for the firefighters similar to the one being used for the sheriff's deputies, but they are not willing to commit to using it until they see what the financial repercussions could be, she said.
"The county has been negotiating in good faith," Journet said. "But what often happens in these cases is that they don't get exactly what they ask for right away, so they argue that we're being uncommunicative. This puts us in an awkward situation, because we don't want to negotiate through the press."