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Morning Lineup – March 19

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 Wednesday – The Pay’s The Same.  Or Is It?

The Suffolk, Virginia, firefighters are getting hit with the same kind of one-sided reasoning that many other FDs go through if they work 3-platoon systems.  The problem arises because the FD is unique in that they work 53-56 hours per week and the rest of the municipal employees work but 40 hrs.  One of our readers, Drummond sent over this article from the Virginian-Pilot that is covering the story that leads off:

City firefighters and emergency medical technicians who work holidays will start seeing smaller paychecks later this year.

Fire Chief Cedric Scott informed department members in meetings last week that the city has been overpaying many of them – by thousands of dollars a year, in some cases. The city was erroneously giving them an extra eight hours of regular pay for each holiday worked, Chief of Staff Debbie George said.

It’s unclear when the city started miscalculating the holiday pay, but George put the total cost of the overpayments at about $336,000 per year for the past three years. She said about 110 firefighters and EMTs benefited from the error each holiday.

George said the city is not asking them to repay the money for fear of creating an “undue hardship.” She added, however, that it would be fiscally irresponsible for the city to continue overpaying them.

What the article doesn’t get into, and we don’t know if the firefighters Local does either, is the definition of just what constitutes “overpayment.”  There’s no denying that they were actually working on those holidays that they received the premium pay, but the city administrators, like all the others, are focused on the 40-hr., 8-hr. day work cycle and they don’t want to pay the extra bucks even though you are there, on duty and working on the Fourth of July instead of taking your kids to see the fireworks show.

We went through this in my FD about 25  or 30 years ago and, of course, we lost.  We just got 8 hrs. of holiday pay for every holiday worked.  People who were off that day did receive an additional 8 hours of leave to compensate for the holiday that they were entitled to, but that was just leave and not premium pay or extra pay or whatever.  But for the administrators wearing the blinkers in City Hall, you’re being overpaid.

On the other hand, to be fair, the city did acknowledge and underpayment for other overtime worked and issued extra compensation for the missed back pay:

The holiday pay error was one of two problems the city discovered in December after Scott – who was sworn in last April – ordered a review of the department’s payroll system. It also learned that the department had been underpaying firefighters and EMTs when they worked overtime by about $1 an hour.

George said she didn’t know when the overtime problem began. She said city staff members looked through three years of time sheets by hand and determined that more than 240 current and former firefighters were underpaid for overtime. The city issued makeup checks averaging about $950.

George said the city went back three years because that is all the law requires; the city can’t be held legally accountable for shortchanging the firefighters before 2011.

“The city is paying what it is required to pay,” she said.

I’ve given you just a superficial summary of what’s going on here, so read the entire ARTICLE HERE to get the rest.  Even at that, it’s always going to be unresolved, as evidenced by other FDs that go through this.  Throughout my entire career we were always getting little changes and adjustments because  “that’s what the rest of the county employees do/get/work, etc.  Whenever I would chime in with a “then are we being considered for a 40-hr. workweek like the  rest of the county?” all we’d get was some hemming and hawing and double-clutching because they never even considered that little discrepancy.

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, to see that this is still going on.

And the daily equipment check is still going on, so let’s get going with that while I get more coffee ready.  See you back in the day  room.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Just_sayin

    In Canada, professional firefighters typically work an average of 42 hours per week and other city employees either work 37 or 35 hours per week, depending on the city.

  • FOBS

    In my dept, we earned 13 holidays per year and could bank up to 26.
    We gained holiday time whether on duty or not.
    Vacation hours were earned depending on years on the job up to 21 hours/month with unlimited accrual.
    Unused holidays or vacation was cashed out upon retirement (deposited in a 401K type account), unused sick leave counted towards time served….2000 hours =1 year.
    BTW, we were on a 72 hour work week, 3 on, 4 off, or 2 on, 2 off with a 6 day Kelly.
    FLSA overtime was in effect because of the duty schedule.