Does The FLSA Always Trump The CBA?

Today’s Burning Question: Can a collective bargaining agreement trump the Fair Labor Standards Act as far as overtime goes?  I heard the FLSA trumps everything, including a CBA. What I mean is, if a CBA states that firefighters must work 192 hours in each 28-day work period before being eligible for overtime, does the FLSA mandated 212 hours in 28 days take precedence?

Answer: While the FLSA certainly can trump collective bargaining agreements, that is not always the case. The best perspective is to consider the FLSA to be the floor below – which an employer cannot go. Employers can offer greater benefits than is required by the FLSA, but not less.

Thus a CBA can offer greater benefits than the FLSA, but can never provide less than what the FLSA requires. In your case the CBA provides overtime after 192 hours in a 28-day work period, which is a higher benefit than what the 212 hours the FLSA requires. The city could not use the FLSA to reduce the firefighters benefits without violating the CBA.

Compare that to a CBA that offers less than the FLSA requires. For example, if the CBA provided that overtime would be paid a time and one-quarter instead of time and one-half, the FLSA would trump the CBA.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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