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Morgantown asking judge to stop hearing on cancelled firefighter pay

MORGANTOWN – The city of Morgantown is asking a judge to step in and stop a hearing scheduled for next week before the Fire Civil Service Commission over the city’s decision to cancel shift differential pay for firefighters. 

Representing the city Morgantown, attorney Ryan Simmonton, of Kay, Casto & Cheney asserted in a filing this week in circuit court, that the commission does not have jurisdiction to hold a hearing in the matter. Simmonton contends holding such a hearing would force the city to spend public money for unauthorized purposes and deprive the city council and city manager of control over personnel rules.

Because the decision to cancel shift differential pay affects firefighters’ pay, Attorney Teresa Toriseva, who represents the International Association of Firefighters Local 313, believes the Civil Service Commission is well within its authority to hear arguments and examine evidence in the matter. 

“This new filing is nothing but a last-minute attempt to stop the Civil Service Commission from even conducting a hearing. It is a litigation tactic to avoid accountability,” Toriseva stated in a press release. 

“The City officials act as though they answer to no one. They have even asserted exactly this position during the previous Commission meeting — that they can do whatever they want without review by anyone.”

The commission held an emergency meeting on April 14 to discuss the matter and encouraged the firefighters and the city attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation while scheduling a hearing for May 12. 

In March, members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 313 unanimously voted no confidence in City Manager Kim Haws after being notified firefighters were no longer eligible for the small pay supplement for working afternoon and midnight shifts. Losing the shift differential pay resulted in a salary reduction of about $2,000 for each firefighter.  

According to multiple reports, shift differential pay for firefighters had been in place for more than three decades. It was even used as a recruitment tool and listed among the fire department’s benefits. 

City officials explained that personnel rules provide a shift differential for employees who work the afternoon shift and the night shift but that firefighters had been incorrectly claiming the supplemental pay. Employees who begin working day shift are not eligible for the benefit. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts, starting at 8 a.m., and according to the city should never have been claiming the shift differential. 

Notification of the updated policy came just weeks after the union rejected the latest settlement offer from the city in a lawsuit filed in 2019 over improper holiday compensation, leading to allegations the city’s decision the shift differential pay was in retaliation for rejecting the settlement offer. 

Firefighters filed a lawsuit in July 2019 related to incorrect holiday pay calculations; the legal challenge alleged the city failed to pay firefighters for 24 hours’ worth of work. The city offered a $1.7 million settlement.

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