Firefighters working for the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana are represented by Local 561 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Louisiana state law calls for the State to make supplemental payments to firefighters who complete more than one year of service. The amount of the state supplemental pay can be as high as $425 per month.
The City’s contract with Local 561 allows it to reduce the salary paid firefighters whenever firefighters begin to receive state supplemental pay. The result has been that the amount of salary paid by the City increases or decreases depending upon the amount of state supplemental pay received.
A group of firefighters filed a lawsuit against the City, contending that the City’s compensation practices violated a state law that provides that “any reduction of the salary of any employee, whether by the governing authority or by any pay plan, shall be void where it is made solely by reason of the additional compensation paid by the State.”
The Louisiana Court of Appeals agreed with the firefighters. The Court reasoned that “the City of Lake Charles paid its firefighters a minimum monthly salary. After the first month of employment, the City paid to each firefighter an additional sum equal to the extra compensation required to be paid by the State. The contract further provided once the firefighter began receiving state supplemental pay, the separate monthly payment by the City was terminated. We find this extra compensation is clearly a benefit to the firefighter within the contemplation of the law and discontinuing this benefit upon receipt of state supplemental pay is clearly a violation of the statute.”
The City argued that it was insulated from liability because it had reached a collective bargaining agreement with Local 561. The Court disagreed, finding that the purpose behind the state statute that prohibits the reduction of firefighters’ salary based on state supplemental pay was to establish minimum standards for firefighters and police officers and to insure that those standards were met by municipalities statewide. The Court concluded that the state law “prohibited the parties from contractually agreeing to reduce a firefighter’s monthly payment by the amount advanced by the City in the anticipation of state supplemental pay.”
Aguillard v. City of Lake Charles, 2007 WL 2780501 (La.App. 2007).
This article appears in the November 2007 issue