City Deficit Grows with Firefighters' Overtime Settlement
A 14-year quarrel about overtime pay for the District’s firefighters is about to come to a head – at the expense of the new mayor’s and the city’s spending priorities. The District government has run out of legal options in the long-running dispute, and is expected to pay up to $50 million to settle a dispute with the union, IAFF Local 36. That settlement comes on the heels of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s election and an already enormous budget shortfall of $83 million.
The head of the local, Edward C. Smith, says he has not spoken to Bowser or D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine to talk sums with regard to the settlement. Bowser has not commented on the dispute publicly, but is expected to address the issue on Tuesday morning at a monthly public meeting – her first – with the D.C. Council.
Like many of the District’s budgetary problems, the overtime conflict with firefighters arose when Congress appointed a financial control board to balance D.C.’s budget. The board did this, in part, by weakening the collective bargaining agreements between the city and its employees. The union had previously negotiated for time-and-a-half wages for working more than 42 hours per week. The financial control board adjusted that threshold to 53 hours.
When the District government reassumed control of its finances in 2001, the firefighters union argued that the 42-hour limit was reinstated. The fire department disagreed, and has not paid for overtime between 42 and 53 hours since then.
Now the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest court in the District, has decided that the city owes back pay for those hours. Local officials estimate that the government will owe $47 million.
The settlement could not come at a worse time for D.C. officials, who have seen the city’s budget deficit skyrocket to $83 million due to malfunctioning traffic cameras. The growing bills spell trouble for both Mayor Bowser and the Council.