One of the disagreements that I have with the TEA party is about pay and benefits of public workers. The TEA partiers like to claim that public sector workers get an overly generous pay and benefits package when compared to private sector workers.
Firefighters in Central Florida are required to graduate from the fire academy, have passed the state firefighter exam, graduate from EMT, pass that state exam, graduate from Paramedic school, pass that state exam, and then take and pass other minor classes like EVOC. All in all, this takes about two years of full time school. (a year for paramedic, 3 months for EMT, and six months for firefighter) At the end of that schooling, you are paid a starting wage of $13.25 an hour, on average. The work schedule of a firefighter is 56 hours a week, but firefighters do not receive time and a half for over time until they work more than 53 hours in a week. This means that the $13.25 an hour translates to just $40,000 a year. (although 3% is deducted to pay for pension)
Working for private EMS is not an option, because although they get overtime when working more than 40 hours, the starting pay for a non-emergency paramedic nets you a starting pay of $13 an hour for that year of training.
So pay is $26,000 a year.
Now one would think that this means that firefighters are being paid a fair wage, but remember that private EMS in Central Florida means routine transports of shuttling people back and forth from the nursing home to their dialysis appointments. There is no skill or decision making to be done there.
Compare that to registered nurses: RNs have a two year school. One year, if you are already a paramedic. for that two years of schooling, the starting pay for an RN is $32.50 an hour. That is equal to about $65,000 a year. This leaves a prospective firefighter with a choice: Spend two years in school to work 56 hours a week for $40,000 a year, or spend the same time in school to make $65,000 a year working 40 hours a week. The difference used to be that firefighters got a decent pension.
Not any more. Firefighters hired after July 1 (the beginning of the fiscal year) in Florida will likely not be allowed to partake in the pension plan. This makes nursing a lot more lucrative. This is one of the reasons why I left, and is the reason why many firefighters, including my son, go to nursing school in order to leave what is increasingly a bad career choice.
I understand that the TEA partiers want to save money and pay less taxes, and if that is what they want, I can respect that. However, when that happens, don’t complain about the level of service you get from the lower paid workers that arrive at your house, because the smarter ones left for greener pastures. Especially considering that public pensions only account for 3% of the state’s budget, while Medicaid eats up 30% of the state budget.
The savings are in giveaway programs, not by cutting the pay of people who will simply find employment elsewhere.