Salisbury firefighters union endorses Heggins in city’s mayoral race
Published 2:53 pm Friday, October 29, 2021
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — The Salisbury Professional Fire Fighters Local 2370, a Salisbury-based union, has endorsed Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins in her bid for mayor.
Caleb Renner, president of the Salisbury Professional Firefighters Union, told the Post the endorsement is because Heggins has been outspoken in her support for the department’s needs and has kept the issue of insufficient pay and benefits relevant. Renner said firefighters sent mayoral and council candidates a questionnaire, and Heggins’ answers were most in line with firefighters’ goals. The questionnaire asked candidates about their ideas to move forward with ensuring firefighters receive adequate compensation and benefits to maintain essential services for the city.
“I stand on my record of supporting working people as I campaign to become the first elected mayor for the city of Salisbury,” Heggins said in response to the endorsement. “I’m a worker, and I come from a working family. Both my parents worked in the mill. I believe elected public servants have a duty and moral obligation to do whatever we can to ensure a living wage, safe working conditions and protections for workers and their families.”
Complaints of insufficient compensation and benefits for firefighters and subsequent departures for more attractive jobs elsewhere were first detailed in a letter to the city from the union in July. The city signed a contract with The MAPS Group on Aug. 25 for $40,000 to begin a salary study in November that will take around five months to complete. Once complete, the study should paint a more thorough assessment of the necessary salaries for all ranks and positions across the city’s departments.
In September, City Manager Lane Bailey said the city would use preliminary data from a study focused solely on the fire department to determine short-term solutions as the study progresses. Renner said they’re expecting those findings “in the near future.”
Because of a decision made decades ago, firefighters in Salisbury do not pay into the Social Security program. Those who may have paid the 10 necessary quarters into the Social Security program in addition to their career as a firefighter are often penalized and don’t receive their full benefits because of the federal Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision.
The city is considering the implementation of a 457 plan, an IRS-sanctioned employee retirement plan offered by state and local government agencies along with some nonprofit employers. That plan offers a greater return on investment, but it doesn’t include the spousal death benefits provided to Social Security recipients.
Bailey said at the Sept. 21 meeting that he will return to council with a resolution to grant the Salisbury Fire Department a 90-day period to vote on opting back into Social Security. He is not certain whether all firefighters would need to opt-in if the vote passed or whether individuals can choose not to opt-in and contribute to a 457 plan instead.
Renner said no one has approached the union about a vote yet, but there seems to be “very positive lines of communication” being opened between union leadership and Fire Chief Bob Parnell.
Additionally, Salisbury Fire has hired three new personnel who are training, but half a dozen vacancies still remain. Renner said it’s sad to continue losing personnel, but he’s “hoping for some positive changes.”
Earlier this year, the Salisbury Fire Department achieved an ISO rating of 1, joining Granite Quarry Fire Department as the only county departments with the distinction along with 16 other departments across the state.
Heggins also received an endorsement from Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council, the local labor council of the AFL-CIO that represents working people throughout Salisbury and Rowan County. In a statement, the Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council stated Heggins was “ready and willing to fight for all workers and economic policies” that benefit families.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.