German workers, including firefighters, at US bases strike for wage increase
Stars and Stripes February 14, 2023
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Roses and chocolates were far from the minds of German employees at multiple U.S. installations who participated in walkouts Tuesday to demand better wages and working conditions.
Nearly 500 employees spent part of Valentine’s Day on downtown Grafenwoehr’s streets, where they were gathered for picketing and speeches by union leaders at the historic market square, Ver.di workers union representative Kathrin Birner told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday.
Some services at Tower Barracks and Rose Barracks were affected by the strike, but gates remained open throughout and there was no security disruption, a spokesman for U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, firefighters who work for the Army and Air Force in the southwestern state of Rheinland-Pfalz have been on strike since Monday.
The Kaiserslautern Military Community, which is spread over numerous installations in the state, is the largest overseas U.S. military community.
“We are not only fighting for our urgently needed wage increase in this tariff round, we are fighting for our profession and for the appreciation of our work,” Georg Fanous, a firefighter for the U.S. Army in Germersheim, said Friday in a statement by Ver.di.
Firefighters spend an average of 256 hours per month at work, which translates to German entry-level hires earning 12 euros per hour during their 24-hour shifts, the union said in a statement.
German firefighters say they are also concerned about a lack of age-appropriate jobs in military fire departments.
“It is expected that you can still climb ladders with heavy breathing equipment up until the retirement age of 67,” Wicko Forler, an employee of the Sembach fire station, said in the Friday statement.
Also on Monday, Ramstein Air Base firefighters displayed banners near the front gate showing the differences between their “backbreaking” jobs and those of aging peers in other professional groups.
The protest did not affect emergency preparedness at the base, a spokeswoman for the 86th Airlift Wing said Tuesday.
Last week, German workers in Wiesbaden, Ansbach, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Hohenfels held walkouts.
The strikes are occurring because the association representing American, British, French and NATO employers of approximately 11,500 German workers rejected union demands for higher raises during two previous rounds of negotiations last month.
Employees were demanding a 9.5% pay increase, and the association offered a 4.1% figure, Ver.di said in a statement Friday.
U.S. troops and federal civilian workers received a 4.6% raise this year.
The emergency responders also called on German officials to recognize their qualifications and training at U.S. firefighting schools, which currently do not certify firefighters to work in German communities should they decide to seek jobs elsewhere.
“It is unacceptable that after 30 years of firefighting service, you are still considered ‘unskilled’ in the German job market,” the Ver.di statement quoted a union official as saying.
Union officials said there could be further strikes depending on the outcome of the new round of negotiations Thursday in Berlin.
Germany’s finance ministry, which conducts collective bargaining on behalf of foreign armed forces, was not immediately available for comment late Tuesday.