A Reminder That State Laws Can Be More Stringent Than The FLSA Or Contracts

A recent case from the Oregon Court of Appeals serves as a good reminder that employers must comply with whatever employment law provides the greatest grant of rights to employees. At times, that grant of rights may be found in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). At other times, that grant of rights may be in a state wage-and-hour statute, or in a collective bargaining agreement.

The Oregon case dealt with a state wage-and-hour statute, ORS 652.080, which mandates that for firefighters, “authorized vacation or sick leave time shall be considered as time on regular duty” and therefore count toward overtime entitlement. Under the FLSA, paid time off need not be counted by employers in calculating hours worked.

The dispute involved the City of Grants Pass and Local 3564 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Local 3564’s collective bargaining agreement does not require the City to include time spent on authorized vacation and sick leave when determining when a firefighter has accumulated enough time to qualify for overtime wages, nor does the agreement expressly prohibit the City from doing so.

Local 3564 petitioned Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, asking for a ruling that the City was required to comply with the wage-and-hour statute and count vacation and sick hours as time worked. The City argued that the requirements of the wage-and-hour law did not apply because the Oregon collective bargaining law “creates a comprehensive structure under which public employee unions can negotiate terms of employment, and it supersedes the mandate of ORS 652.080.”

Terming the City’s argument “novel,” the Court of Appeals held that the City was required to comply with the wage-and-hour law and count vacation and sick hours as time worked. The Court began by noting that “there is nothing in the plain text of the collective bargaining laws that would imply that the legislature intended to create a collective bargaining exception to the requirements of ORS 652.080. Typically, when the legislature intends to create such an exception, it does so explicitly.

“As the IAFF points out, ORS 652.080 and the collective bargaining law can be read consistently. The collective bargaining law creates general rights for public employees. However, the law does not provide that parties may bargain to exempt themselves from explicit statutory requirements on specific issues. On the other hand, ORS 652.080 creates a narrow overtime entitlement for public firefighters. This overtime entitlement is distinct and separate from the general bargaining provisions and should be read as a discrete statutory directive that collective bargaining agreements for firefighters must follow.”

International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 3564 v. City of Grants Pass, 2014 WL 1819639 (Or. App. 2014).