Omaha Once Again Sued By Fire Union

OMAHA, NE &#8211 Yet another lawsuit has been filed in Omaha’s ongoing fight with its firefighters’ union.

The fire union sued the city and Mayor Jim Suttle in Douglas County District Court this week, a move that seeks to force city payments of back wages.

The lawsuit asks a judge to compel the city to pay the union back wages and interest due for 2009. Payment for that year was already ordered in an earlier ruling from the state’s Commission of Industrial Relations.

In addition, the union wants a judge to require the city to calculate and pay back wages for 2010 and 2011. Labor court decisions for both years are pending.

Assistant City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch said the city is now calculating how to distribute approximately $2.8 million worth of back wages due for 2009 and expects to submit figures for the union’s review in four to six weeks.

Payment of the 2009 back wages would presumably occur sometime in March, in den Bosch said. The city has already passed a three-month deadline imposed by the CIR to pay the 2009 back wages.

“We understand that we’re late. We understand we’ve got an obligation to pay it,” he said.

John Corrigan, the fire union’s attorney, said the union has “people that are entitled to this money, and we’ve got to make sure that they get it and that there’s some deterrent for the city’s failure to comply with the order.”

“That order is final and enforceable, and the city has yet to comply with it,” Corrigan said.

One reason for the late payment is connected to an agreement that would have split 2009 back wages equally among union members.

That agreement was attached to the tentative fire contract agreement reached by the union and Mayor Jim Suttle’s administration last May, as the city sought to avoid a time-intensive effort to determine individual firefighters’ payouts.

The City Council, however, voted to essentially kill that proposed contract by placing it on file. The council then took over labor negotiations from the mayor’s administration.

Without a contract, city firefighters were paid at a 2008 pay grade from May 2009 until late September of last year. Now the city pays 2009-level wages.

Fire union officials sued the city for 2011 back wages after filing a separate suit for 2010 wages and benefits. Both of those lawsuits could result in the court awarding firefighters more compensation.

The legal action appears to cast a pall over stalled negotiations for a new fire contract. Yet both the fire union and council plan a return to the bargaining table.

From The Omaha World-Herald.