West Virginia Firefighters Claim Retaliation In Pay Dispute

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Firefighters in West Virginia's Morgantown say the city manager lowered their pay in retaliation for their refusal to accept a settlement in a separate dispute, although the city says it is just making the firefighters play by the rules.

The new dispute involves the firefighters' shift differential pay — a small pay boost when they work the afternoon or midnight shifts, The Dominion Post reported. The pay differential covers not only firefighters but also the city’s police, public works and parking authority employees, but firefighters are the only city employees who work regular 24-hour shifts. Because of that, some were claiming both the afternoon and night differentials.

Teresa Toriseva, the attorney representing Morgantown’s firefighter union, says they were “filling out timesheets exactly as they were trained to do by the city human resources officials.” The fact that the city is only raising the issue now is "further evidence of retaliation.”

The city says firefighters were claiming money they should not have. City rules for the differential pay refer to “employees who begin their shift between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m." and “employees who begin their shift between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m.”

”If firefighters – or other employees – were claiming shift differential simply because they worked during the hours of 1 p.m.- 8 p.m., or 8 p.m.- 3 a.m., that was not permitted by the rules, and it should not have been paid," the city said.

Toriseva said the wording is a technicality. Firefighters officially start their shifts at 8 a.m., but they could just as easily start them at 8 p.m.

Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy disagreed, saying only the city can decide when a 24-hour shifts starts.

“They’re just wrong,” Toriseva said. She noted that a 24-hour-shift professional firefighter works 40% more hours that a 40-hour-per-week employee or 832 hours more a year.

Toriseva accused City Manager Kim Haws of cancelling the differential as retaliation after firefighters refused to accept a settlement offer for about half of what they believe they are owed in back pay, as part of a lawsuit over holiday compensation.

Stacy said after the city informed firefighters about the proper use and authorization of shift differential pay they all correctly reported their shifts without the differential. The coming payday will be the first without the shift differential pay.