More than 160 Charleston firefighters will get about $1.7 million in back pay, after city officials realized the way they paid firefighters for working on holidays has broken West Virginia law for the past several years.
Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said that, after The Dominion Post reported in June that Morgantown’s firefighters union had filed suit against the city over incorrect holiday pay, the capital city looked into its own policy.
“Our administration started to research the holiday pay ordinance, and actually found out in the city of Charleston, that they had been inappropriately paying our firefighters for years,” Goodwin said at a Monday morning news conference with Myron Boggess, president of Charleston Professional Firefighters Local 317, part of the International Association of Fire Fighters union.
In 2011, City Council members voted to change how firefighters were paid on holidays, giving them 12 hours of regular pay, instead of time-and-a-half. The change took effect at the beginning of 2012.
Boggess said Monday that state law requires firefighters to be paid at the time-and-a-half rate on holidays, or be awarded equal time off.
The holiday pay change was part of several measures then-Mayor Danny Jones’ administration put forward to free up money for city firefighters’ underfunded pension plan. The other measures included cutting 10 vacant Charleston Fire Department positions, which led firefighters to picket outside City Hall before the vote. Only two City Council members, Bill Kirk and Cubert Smith, voted against the changes.
Goodwin said Monday that the $1.7 million for firefighters’ back pay would come directly from the city’s unassigned fund balance, a surplus she touted during her State of the City address last week.
“Had we not, over the past year, saved an incredible amount of resources ... we would’ve been in a pickle,” she said.
In the future, Goodwin said, the estimated $700,000 it will cost to lawfully compensate the city’s firefighters will be written into the annual budget.
“This is not an inexpensive fix, but it is a necessary fix, for sure,” she said.
An ordinance setting the new holiday pay rate will be introduced at the Jan. 21 City Council meeting, and it could be passed at the Feb. 3 meeting.
Boggess said there were no issues or dust-ups trying to get this deal done with the Mayor’s Office. He noted that the process went much smoother than other West Virginia cities settling similar discrepancies.
“It’s been one of the easiest transitions I’ve been involved with,” Boggess said. “We worked diligently, day in and day out, almost for the past seven months, to get this — there was no hard battles fought between one another — we just worked together and got this fixed.”
The exact figure each firefighter will receive hasn’t been determined, Boggess said, because current employees and retirees will need to be paid back and the math is still being worked out. Whatever the amount, it will be welcome, he said.
“Any little drop in wages that we see, or not compensated for, puts a little strain on our families,” he said. “So this not only makes our families rest easier but makes firefighters rest easy when we come to work to do the job that we do.”