The firefighter who nurtured Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s close relationship with the politically powerful firefighters’ union has quietly assumed a new Fire Department post — with a hefty pay raise.
Richard Paris, the former head of Local 718 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, was named the Fire Department’s director of OSHA compliance last spring. The position pays $171,082 a year, more than other, more high-profile city posts, including Walsh’s chief of staff. And it far exceeds the $108,374 Paris was paid in 2018 as an advance technician for the Fire Department.
Paris received an $88,959 salary in 2013, the year before Walsh was elected with large support from the firefighters’ union. He has been in the new role since April.
The timing of his latest raise could allow Paris, 61, to work for at least three years at the new pay rate before he steps down at the mandatory retirement age for firefighters, age 65. Doing so would allow Paris, under pension rules, to collect 80 percent of the higher pay scale, a significant boost of income heading into retirement.
Paris did not respond to a request for comment on the new position. In February 2019, he said in an interview that he was stepping down as union president for personal reasons, after negotiating his second labor contract with the administration. At that time, he denied department-wide speculation that he was in line for a political appointment at fire headquarters.
Pam Wilmot, head of the government watchdog Common Cause Massachusetts, said there are many factors to be examined when a public employee is awarded a hefty pay raise and new job assignment: Is the appointment justified? Is the pay in line with other similar jobs? And is the person qualified? She was speaking in general and not about Paris, but said such facts matter.
“When people double their salaries in the last three years of their career, it raises flags, but just because there’s smoke doesn’t mean there’s fire,” she said.
But the correlation between Paris’s resignation from the union and the pay boost raises questions of political favoritism, after several harmonious years between firefighters and the administration.
In an interview, Walsh called Paris’s appointment appropriate because of his experience.
“He’s qualified, he’s capable, he’s been a firefighter for 30-plus years,” the mayor said.
Commissioner Joseph Finn, who joined with Paris in supporting Walsh’s election campaign in 2013, also called Paris a fitting candidate for the job, which he said is required by new state law that gives the state Department of Labor Standards more power to enforce federal Occupational Safety, Health, and Administration rules for public sector workplaces.
Paris’s duties involve drawing up department protocol to ensure the department meets new state and federal workplace standards.
“There was a lot of anxiety from the chiefs association and professional firefighters about what this means for us going forward,” said Finn, who appointed Paris to the new post, in an interview.
Last year, Finn said, “no one on the Boston Fire Department had the qualifications to do this.” Since then, he said, Paris has undergone nearly 400 hours of workplace safety training.
When asked why Paris was appointed, he responded, ”Because of his skills.”
“He has the credibility in the firehouses, when he goes out to correct something,” Finn said. “There’s a respect factor, and people know he’s committed to safety, health, and wellness. It felt like a natural fit.”
The job is governed by the Local 718 firefighters’ contract, but it is an appointed position. Finn said the $171,082 salary is comparable to a similar position that is listed in the contract, assistant superintendent of maintenance, though that post is currently open.
The union, a political force with more than 1,500 employees, endorsed the mayor in 2013 and members campaigned on his behalf. Firefighters individually and through their international chapter donated tens of thousands of dollars to Walsh’s campaign.
Months into his new administration, the mayor reached his first agreement for a contract with the union: It was the first firefighters’ contract the city reached since 2001 without going to arbitration, after years of strained relations between the union and Walsh’s predecessor, the late Thomas M. Menino.
Four years later, in 2018, the administration again reached an agreement with the union for a contract that lasts through June 2021; 75 percent of the membership supported it. Paris resigned from the union two months later.
Lately, however, factions in the union have quietly grumbled about their contract and new policies the administration has been implementing, such as more diversity training and wellness programs. In early February, the union sued the administration in state Superior Court, seeking to halt the administration’s new policy of transferring firefighters to light-duty status while their injury claims can be reviewed. A state judge is reviewing the request.
Walsh denied that Paris received a political appointment. He acknowledged that Paris was a supporter but said they were at different ends of the negotiating table and ultimately agreed on a fair contract for both taxpayers and firefighters.
“We fought, we argued, we compromised, and we got two contracts done,” he said.
Paris, the mayor added, "earned the job for doing what he’s done . . . as a firefighter for the City of Boston.”