Why 252 police officers and firefighters are suing the County again
October 05, 2006
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… and we're going to court. Maui's finest are taking the County to federal court, again. Two hundred and fifty-two of Maui's police officers and firefighters filed two separate complaints in April 2005 against the County.
The issue is pay. This month they were talking settlement, but none has yet been reached. If everyone can't agree on what to do, or how much to pay, the trial's set for Jan. 30, 2007.
Let's try to be careful with matches that day, okay?
Police and firemen, captains and chiefs—some with the County for more than 20 years—are crying foul. They contend the County isn't paying them correctly, adequately, or even legally for as far back as they can remember.
And they say that although some have been forced to sue over this same issue before, that although the County settled out of court the first time, they are still being paid the same, illegal way as ever. A Sept. 16, 2006 Maui News blurb reported that the County settled with the original group for $1.2 million just two years ago.
"We work for the fire department for the love of the job," said Jack Williams, a 51-year-old firefighter. "But the County was negligent in paying certain things. Since [the first case] they haven't changed their practices. Nothing's changed. This time more firefighters and police found out about it.
"We feel like we're not taking advantage [of the County]," he added. He said that though he, and others, have been with the County for more than 20 years, the suit will only fix issues from the last two to three years.
"The County actually comes out ahead because we're correcting problems that will come up in the future," he said.
The firefighters' complaints are that the County didn't calculate overtime correctly, that people can rarely take the time-off they've earned and that certain job-related tasks—usually done "off-the-clock"—should be paid.
And, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the statute of limitations goes back two years. Three, if there's willful intent.
Cheryl Tipton, deputy corporation counsel for the County and Steve Nakashima, an outside attorney representing the County, contend that these offenses aren't happening. But, they don't say much else.
So far, the County council has authorized $125,000 for the defense.
Most employers will try and pay their employees legally. That said the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) helped employees recover $166 million of back pay in 2005. This doesn't include the cases that go directly to court, like those against Maui County.
Deanne Amaden, a regional officer from the DOL, said that, "most places will consult and follow county, state and federal laws." She added that when policies are not followed, it could only be by mistake, a misinterpretation of the law or an intentional decision.
But she said her office doesn't audit counties to make sure they're in compliance. Instead, they must rely on complaints filed by employees.
So stay tuned. Bout number two on the payroll fight card pits the firefighters and policemen against the County. The first bout ended in a TKO. This grudge match will feature harder blows than the first. And, should a cut open up, taxpayer dollars may bleed out faster than before. MTW
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