Q & A

From Arizona

Question: I work for a fire district as a paramedic/firefighter. I have an assigned station and my direct supervisor is at that assigned station. In order to manage staffing I am routinely sent to other stations throughout the district. I am required (not through policy) to drive my own vehicle from my home station to other stations. We have a position that is used for this purpose but when they have already been assigned the District uses core staffing such as me to cover vacant paramedic positions (they will move a firefighter to my station and send me where they need the paramedic). I am still required to arrive at the station I am covering by the start of shift.

Staffing pages are done one hour prior to shift. My question is in two parts. Should I be compensated for donning and doffing when I have to show up at my assigned station 45 minutes prior to shift to gather my gear and bedding? Is the District responsible to cover mileage for my own vehicle?

Answer: Whether donning and doffing is compensable will come down to how much in the way of equipment and a uniform you have to don and doff. We have yet to hear of firefighters having enough of each to pass the FLSA’s tests for compensability, but this is a case-by-case analysis.

On the driving between stations, we believe the FLSA would require that you be paid for the driving time. However, there’s nothing in the FLSA or any other federal law that would require your employer to pay you your mileage expenses. Mileage reimbursement is typically a matter of collective bargaining agreement or, in its absence, a matter of local personnel practice.

From Ohio

Question: Can police officers be “forced” to sit through mandatory presentations by charitable organizations while on duty for the purpose of soliciting donations to the charitable organization? Management’s response is that as long as the officers are being paid, they can be required to sit through the presentations.

Answer: Your employer’s response is a correct one, with two important caveats.
First, no public employee can be required to listen to a religious charity’s presentation if that presentation involves any advocacy of religion. Second, there’s a real question whether an employee could be required to listen to political speech made by a charity.

From Michigan

Question: If you do not want to join the union but are required by contract to pay a “service fee” to the union, what is the maximum amount by law that you can be charged?

Answer: There are a series of decisions from the United States Supreme Court on precisely this issue. Perhaps the most important of those decisions is Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, 500 U.S. 507 (1991), where the Court held that the amount of a fair share assessment was limited by how much of the union’s total expenditures were “germane” to the collective bargaining process. In later decisions, courts have given a fairly expansive interpretation to what is “germane” to collective bargaining. You’ll definitely want to take a look at these cases in assessing your own situation.

The upshot of all this is that if only 95% of the union’s budget is spent on matters germane to collective bargaining, a fair share assessment can be no higher than 95% of the union’s normal dues.

This article appears in the November 2008 issue