Wilkes-Barre Seeks To Vacate Decision Awarding Pay To Injured Firefighters

WILKES-BARRE, PA – City officials on Thursday filed suit seeking to vacate an arbitration decision awarding two weeks’ pay and benefits to injured firefighters who received their full salaries while on leave.

At issue is a Sept. 18 opinion by arbitrator James C. Peck Jr. of Media in which he found the city improperly withheld 42 hours of pay from Assistant Chief Thomas Makar and firefighter Gregory Freitas after they were injured in the line of duty in April 2014. Peck ordered the city to give the men back pay and benefits for the final two weeks of the year, which he said amounted to “extra days” beyond the final pay period of the year resulting from a “quirk” in the calendar.

But the city maintains both men were paid their full salaries for the year in accordance with the union contract — $83,641 for Makar and $61,613 for Freitas.

“As the evidence of record overwhelmingly established, Chief Makar and Mr. Freitas were paid those respective amounts for 2014,” says Thursday’s filing by attorneys John G. Dean and Mark W. Bufalino. “The city has, therefore, complied with the (contract) and the (Heart and Lung) Act by paying Chief Makar and Mr. Freitas their full rate of salary.”

City officials maintain Makar and Freitas are salaried employees under the union contract and that Peck incorrectly concluded they were paid by the hour.

The attorneys argue Peck “erroneously concluded” the pair was entitled to pay for the extra pay period in 2014 despite the fact that neither man worked any of those hours. Overtime and vacation pay are also prohibited in calculating benefits under the Heart and Lung Act, they wrote.

The attorneys argue Peck overstepped his authority in the ruling, which was based on legal arguments that should not have been considered and answered questions that were no before him. They seek to have the arbitration award vacated.

Reached Thursday, Wilkes-Barre City Firefighters Union President Michael Bilski said the amount in question for that 27th pay period of the year doesn’t amount to much but that the city has a history of litigating matters raised by the union. The union’s position is that firefighters work varying hours that usually average out to about 42 hours per week, he said.

“We receive overtime, so we’re not true salaried,” Bilski said.

From The Citizens Voice