California Firefighters Battle With Mayor

This past weekend, a local newspaper in California wrote about a nasty dispute between the mayor of the City of La Verne and the La Verne Firefighters, IAFF Local 3624, that has prompted two separate federal court lawsuits in recent months.

The first suit alleges that the mayor and the city violated the union’s First Amendment Rights because the firefighters supported another candidate in the 2017 election. The second suit alleges the city underpaid its firefighters in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Whittier Daily News article does a very good job of explaining the back story to the dispute. For that reason, I will not be explaining what brought the parties to loggerheads. Here is a link to the article.

From my perspective, what is worth noting is something that I see on a daily basis: ongoing labor disputes like this create a situation that is ripe for firefighters to sue under the FLSA. When everything is going along well, firefighters have little incentive to upset the applecart with complicated wage and hour litigation. However, when the parties are already at odds with management, the temptation to pile-on is almost too much to resist. Make no mistake about it, the primary winners in these cases are the attorneys. Sure the firefighters make something, but the attorneys make more, and that includes the city’s attorneys.

In the La Verne case, the firefighters are alleging two categories of FLSA violations. First, they allege that firefighters who attended staff meetings, committee meetings, equipment design meetings, training, interviews, and even Explorer meetings, were not paid for their time, and should have been. We often refer to this type of violation as “off-the-clock work”.

Secondly, the firefighters allege that the city miscalculated the rate at which they should be paid overtime by not including holiday pay in their “regular rate”. Under the FLSA, overtime is calculated by multiplying an employee’s regular rate by 1.5. When calculating an employee’s regular rate, the employer must include “all remuneration,” not just the employee’s hourly wages. Regular rate mistakes are one of the most common reasons why fire departments are being sued under the FLSA.

Determining whether holiday pay should be included in the regular rate calculation is a somewhat complicated issue. Bill Maccarone covered this issue recently in his blog, FirefighterOvertime.org.

Here is a copy of the FLSA complaint: Glaze v City of La Verne FLSA

 

 

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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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