Labor commissioner sides with Fire Fighters in overtime pay dispute

The City of Grants Pass has been ordered by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to include vacation and sick leave when computing overtime pay for firefighters. The City also must pay back overtime wages to 24 firefighters — members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3564 — to correct up to two years (the maximum allowed) of miscalculated pay. The cost is estimated to be $30,000.

The union filed a wage claim with BOLI in February 2011 after discovering state statutes that set working hours and that established a method of computing overtime pay for firefighters.

“We didn’t know the laws even existed,” union President Michael Fazio told the Labor Press.

Some members brought it to Fazio’s attention late in 2010 after attending an HR officers class.

The statute has been on the books since 1959, with amendments made in 1969.

“I asked the City about it, and they said, ‘you’re right. We’ll make it right.’ Then they changed their mind,” Fazio said.

The City argued before BOLI that a more recently enacted law governing overtime for public employees (the 1973 Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act, giving public employees the right to collectively bargain for the first time) trumped the firefighter-specific statute. It also asserted that language in their collective bargaining agreement with the Fire Fighters addressing overtime pay eclipsed the law.

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian rejected that analysis, ruling in favor of the firefighters, stating that they should be paid overtime wages based on their total regular duty hours, including authorized vacation and sick leave, as set forth by the state statutes.

The City of Grants Pass has as filed a petition with the state Court of Appeals to review the decision as it continues to calculate overtime pay incorrectly, Fazio told the Labor Press.

Because a labor commissioner’s determination carries legal weight in all state jurisdictions, the ruling potentially impacts other fire departments in Oregon. It is not known how many jurisdictions or individual firefighters may be impacted, though Fazio said at least five other Fire Fighter locals are planning to file similar wage claims.

Workers with questions about proper calculation of overtime should contact the Oregon Wage and Hour Division at 971-673-0761 or go online here.

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