Jury: Firefighters not entitled to hourly wages, back pay

Saturday, September 18th 2004, 5:59 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma City firefighters lost their multimillion-dollar lawsuit that claimed they were improperly being paid on a salaried basis instead of an hourly basis.

A U.S. District Court jury in Oklahoma City sided with the city on Friday, saying the city does not underpay the firefighters.

Firefighters claimed they signed on as hourly employees but were not paid for 29 percent of their annual hours. They work nine 24-hour shifts every 27 days for a total of 2,916 hours a year, but they are only paid for 2,080 hours a year, they said.

The city calculates firefighters' pay based on a 40-hour work week, violating the Federal Labor Standards Act, they said.

The city said firefighters have always been salaried and have been paid overtime and benefits at a higher hourly rate. It's what the firefighters' union and city negotiated in their contract, assistant municipal counselor Wiley Williams said.

``If there's a problem, let's fix it, but filing a lawsuit is not the way to fix the problem,'' Williams told the jury during closing arguments. ``They have to change it the right way, not by sneaking in the back door.''

Had the firefighters won, the verdict could have cost Oklahoma City $10 million a year and $40 million in back pay.

Fire Chief Alan Benson said he expects the union and city to try to clear up any ambiguity about hourly wages and salaries in the next round of negotiations.

The more than 530 city firefighters who joined the lawsuit will not face ramifications for the legal battle, Benson said after the verdict.

``I always respect their rights,'' he said.