WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington firefighters and police officers are demanding better treatment and fair pay from city leaders.
Dozens of first responders and their supporters picketed in front of City Hall and then took their frustrations before City Council.
“We are at our wits end. We are forced to do this,” said Ross Raper with Police for a Safer Wilmington.
They said with years of low pay and a higher cost of living, including costly health insurance, they are done keeping quiet.
“I’m tired of listening to people say everything is going to be OK. It is time to take this into our own hands to let them know this is important to us,” said Thomas Tilmon.
Tuesday firefighters and police officers came together with one voice to work towards obtaining the change they feel they deserve.
“We’ve stood by and toted the party line as they asked us to just bear with them, and that’s what we did,” said Raper.
Responders said low pay is to blame for the turnover rates in both departments. They said wages give employees little motivation to stay. A consequence that is also costly to citizens.
“We’ve been working shot handed for quite some time now and it’s getting a little taxing. It needs to be fixed,” said Tilmon.
After protesting for about an hour, the group then filed into the City Council meeting.
City leaders recognized the Fire Department for its accreditation. An accomplishment the department worked for five years on to receive.
Firefighters say this is an honor only 190 stations hold out of the 35,000 across the country.
“We are one of the best fire departments in the country. We should be willing to pay them that way also,” said Battalion Chief David Hines.
In some cases workers are paid 28% less than cities comparable to the Port City.
Battalion Chief Hines guesses if Council brought salaries up to what the market suggests it would require a significant tax increase.He said leaders need to step up where they can.
“You have to take small steps at it. Whatever they can do will be appreciated,” said Hines.
Tilmon went before Council to articulate the group’s concerns. City Council responded with a standing ovation along with the rest of the audience.
A spokeswoman for the city said Council discussed the pay issue at its budget work session on Monday.
She said the issue is one of Council’s top priorities for the next fiscal year’s budget.
Meanwhile, firefighters and police officers say they plan on protesting before every council meeting until the budget is approved.