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Portsmouth firefighters hope to address retention, pay with potential collective bargaining negotiations

Portsmouth has until August 29 to officially decide on moving forward with the negotiation process.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Emergency responders in Virginia have a new way to fight for better wages, and many will soon be looking at what happens specifically in the city of Portsmouth.

This week, the Portsmouth Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association -- IAFF 539 -- took to social media, calling the rate of firefighters leaving the city "alarming."

"It is time to STOP the MASS EXODUS!" the Facebook post from June 1 reads.

It's just one of the recent posts made through the account regarding collective bargaining efforts that could soon take place in the city, a process that would allow Portsmouth's firefighters and other city employees to negotiate work conditions.

We are losing our best and most expierenced city employees to neighboring cities at an ALARMING rate. It is time to...

Posted by Portsmouth Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association on Tuesday, June 1, 2021

“We’re seeing a big issue with keeping tenured people that taxpayers have paid to train," Secretary of IAFF 539 Thomas Sessoms told 13News Now Thursday.

Based on previous reporting from 13News Now, the heart of collective bargaining is less about negotiating better starting pay but more about pay structure overall.

Here are the starting salaries for firefighters across several Tidewater areas:

  • Norfolk: $42,450
  • Chesapeake: $44,326
  • Portsmouth: $42,500

Under the same "Firefighter" rank in Portsmouth, the maximum salary per year is $68,850. Sessoms says that while starting pay remains competitive in Portsmouth among the Hampton Roads region, where the city falls behind is its ability to pay firefighters with more than five years of experience in the field. 

"We’re nowhere near as close to the other municipalities," Sessoms said.

In the 2020 Virginia General Assembly, lawmakers passed a measure that ended the state's outright ban on public sector collective bargaining. Opening the door to now work for better work conditions and more, Sessoms says IAFF 539 -- representing many Portsmouth firefighters and paramedics -- wants to put an end to losing experienced firefighters finding better monetary opportunities elsewhere.

RELATED: Virginia lawmakers OK limited public sector bargaining bill

“It’s to be more competitive in the Hampton Roads marketplace, once our folks have 5-10 years on the floor, that they’re not whisked away to other cities by better compensation and pay packages," Sessoms said.

Following the May 25 Portsmouth City Council meeting, the city has until August 29th to officially decide to move forward with the negotiation process.

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