RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A group of several dozen Raleigh Fire and Raleigh Police employees gathered in front of Raleigh City Hall on Tuesday to protest their current pay and demand a "livable wage."
"This is the last opportunity for the City to offer these employees a livable wage that is fair," said police officer Matthew Cooper. "A wage that values their employment."
The protest came just minutes ahead of Raleigh City Council's meeting that was switched to virtual at the last minute, because of health and safety concerns after Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin tested positive for COVID-19.
Employees from both groups say the proposed starting pay rate for fiscal year 2023 is $15.90 per hour. They are urging city leadership to bump that to $18.20 per hour.
However, the council spent a significant amount of time debating firefighters' work schedules during Tuesday's meeting. Councilmembers debated changing the shift schedule for firefighters to a 12-hour shift instead of the current 24-hour shift. The move would drastically change take-home pay for firefighters.
One firefighter said he did make more than the current posted salary when he factored in the amount of compensation he receives in overtime.
Additionally, police and firefighters, along with all City employees, received a 2% cost-of-living pay increase that was unanimously approved by councilmembers.
To pay for the increase, Raleigh City Manager Marchell Adams-David said in Tuesday's meeting, "We will more than likely be bringing forth a minimum of 2% tax increase on top of stormwater increases, tax increases, parks and recreation increases as well as solid waste services increases to balance."
"This is a priority," said Rick Armstrong, who serves as vice president for Teamsters Local 391. "If they have to cut spending in other areas, that should be no problem."
Adams-David said she gave Fire Chief Herbert Griffin the ability to over-hire firefighters to address vacancies.
"I wish that was the case for (Raleigh Police). Totally different story," she said.
"We don't want to see 168 vacancies turn into 200 vacancies. And that's what we predict if City Council doesn't do something to compensate police officers and firefighters," said Armstrong.
The Council is set to see the fiscal year 2023 budget presented at a council meeting next month.