Padilla, Lofgren Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Raise Overtime Pay Cap for Wildland Firefighters

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-18) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to permanently raise the caps on overtime premium pay for federal wildland firefighters. The Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act would increase these overtime pay caps to appropriately compensate Forest Service and Interior Department wildland firefighters for their extensive and intense service. The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Despite risking their lives and traveling cross-country for months at a time to protect American communities and forests from catastrophic wildfires, many of the more than 11,000 wildland firefighters live paycheck to paycheck, working overtime without fair pay. This inequity has contributed to a firefighter workforce shortage — already, 20 percent of Forest Service permanent firefighter positions are vacant, and the federal government often cannot compete with salaries offered by state and local firefighting agencies.

“As increasingly devastating wildfire seasons scorch our forests and endanger communities across the West, our federal wildland firefighting force deserves our full support for their heroic, dangerous work on the frontlines to keep us safe,” said Senator Padilla. “The overtime pay caps force our firefighters to make an impossible choice: walk off the line or work for free. And they always choose to protect communities and save lives. This legislation is a necessary step to make sure our firefighters continue to get fair compensation as they put their lives on the line.”

“Federal wildland firefighters perform dangerous, back-breaking jobs protecting our communities. Yet after they reach pay caps, they receive no overtime pay for the additional hours they work. Our commonsense legislation will strengthen our workforce and ensure firefighters receive the overtime pay they deserve for putting their lives on the line to protect us. Eliminating this cap is the right thing to do for firefighters, their families, and for our communities,” said Representative Lofgren.

“Our federal wildland firefighters risk their lives to keep our communities safe, and this commonsense legislation will remove unfair caps that are keeping them from getting the overtime pay they deserve,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I’ll always work to deliver the resources and support our firefighters need.”

“Year after year, our wildland firefighters demonstrate unparalleled courage and resilience, traveling extensively and confronting immense dangers to safeguard American communities, forests, and natural landscapes from the devastating impacts of wildfires. Despite their monumental service, it is disheartening to acknowledge that many of these 11,000+ dedicated professionals are constrained to live paycheck to paycheck due to host of factors, amongst them the prevailing pay caps. The challenge of overtime work without proportionate compensation, combined with the growing vacancies in permanent firefighter positions, underscores the dire need for addressing this discrepancy. The ‘Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act’ presents a timely and significant solution to this systemic inequity. By proposing to elevate the overtime pay caps and augmenting the potential maximum earnings for our firefighters, the legislation rightfully recognizes and compensates them for their arduous and indispensable service,” said Luke Mayfield, President, Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.

“The National Federation of Federal Employees, representing more than 10,000 federal wildland firefighters, is pleased to endorse the Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act.  Each year during fire season and beyond, the demand for wildland firefighters requires heavy overtime hours.  Because overtime is so high, firefighters exceed arbitrary pay caps, and many hours of work go unpaid.  This means that on top of grueling hours and exertion, firefighters are forced to work for free. This fix is long overdue and will help with recruitment and retention of a workforce that is already 20% understaffed.  We thank Senator Alex Padilla for his leadership, and we support this Act in memory of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein who was a staunch supporter of wildland firefighters and their families,” said Randy Erwin, National President, NFFE.

This legislation complements existing federal efforts like Padilla’s Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, which would permanently increase the salary of wildland firefighters. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided a temporary pay fix for federal firefighters and was recently extended through the Continuing Resolution.

Specifically, the Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act would:

  1. Provide a permanent statutory fix for wildland firefighter pay caps, increasing the total possible take home paychecks from GS 15 – Step 10 to Senior Executive Service II.
  2. Expand eligible employees to include National Weather Service meteorologists that deploy with firefighters for the hours they work on wildfires.
  3. Require a joint report from the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, and the National Weather Service on the necessary staffing levels of wildland firefights and incident meteorologists. 

Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.-04), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-02), Scott Peters (D-Calif.-50), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-19), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.-02), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.-47) are co-leading the bill in the House of Representatives, and Representatives Ted Lieu (D-Calif.-36), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.-26), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.-10), and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.-30) are cosponsoring the legislation.

The Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act is endorsed by the National Federation of Federal Employees and the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.

Senator Padilla has consistently pushed to protect wildland firefighter pay. Following the introduction of his Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act in July, Padilla joined Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and a bipartisan group of Senators in urging Senate leadership to promptly pass the bill to protect the pay raise secured for wildland firefighters in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and avert a looming pay cliff. He also recently supported the Biden administration’s emergency supplemental request for $15 million for the Department of the Interior to reform wildland firefighting pay through the first quarter of FY 2024. Last year, he joined a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the Administration to establish a special pay rate for federal wildland firefighters to prevent staffing shortages and strengthen wildfire response efforts. The Administration announced a temporary pay raise shortly after this request.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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