Q & A

From New Jersey

Question: I am in a combination Fire Department in New Jersey. It has been brought to our attention that the City intends to pay the volunteer members that cover the station with the paid staff when we are short-staffed. We have been told the pay is around $10.00 per hour, and they will be part-time employees. What recourse do we have and will this violate FLSA and Garcia rules?

Answer: We see nothing in what you describe that would violate the FLSA. As long as the volunteers are receiving the minimum wage, and as long as they receive overtime pay when they work beyond the FLSA’s overtime threshold, the use of volunteers wouldn’t be impacted by the FLSA.

One potential issue we see concerns the implications of New Jersey’s collective bargaining laws. You should definitely check with a local lawyer on this, but the use of volunteers might be considered “subcontracting,” an issue which is mandatorily negotiable in many states. If that’s the case in New Jersey, the employer might have to bargain with the union before expanding the use of volunteers.

From Illinois

Question: We have in our contract a benefit that gives officers with over 20 years of service one day off for every year of service as long as they give proper notice (at least 10 days before retirement date). My question is, what is the definition of retirement? This officer is 45 years old, worked 21 full years. The Department may waver saying that 45 is not retirement age. We can collect retirement benefits starting at age 50. Thank you.

Answer: The definition of “retirement” will be particular to your particular bargaining unit, and will likely involve factors such as the existence/non-existence of a local retirement system, bargaining history, past practice, and other contract language dealing with retirement issues. In the absence of any such information, you’ll find a variety of definitions of the term, with the most common being the earliest combination of age and years of service when an individual can receive a non-actuarially-reduced pension.

From Florida

Question: After working our three-day work weekend, then having to do an eight-hour mandatory violent crime detail that Monday, we were told by our Supervisor that he wanted us to go to our shooting range and shoot for training purposes. No one had any deficiency in shooting. I told our Supervisor I did not wish to go as I was tired from the long weekend. While he gave me a direct order to go, I said nothing and went home. How can a Supervisor direct you to train when your day is complete? I’ve been told they can whenever they want and if it’s your day off they can call you in to train. How is this?

Answer: The general rule with public safety employees is that unless a collective bargaining agreement gives the employee the option of whether or not to work overtime, an employer has the unfettered right to order employees to work overtime. While you might be able to file a grievance over the employer’s order depending upon the wording of your contract, to refuse to obey the order exposed you to possible discipline for insubordination.

This article appears in the October 2007 issue