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58 Morgantown firefighters sue city over unpaid holiday wages

MORGANTOWN — City firefighters are suing the city to receive holiday pay that they say has been withheld for years.

The case was filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court. MFD Lt. Jayson Nicewarner, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 313, is lead plaintiff. Joining him are all 57 union members, including Chief Mark Caravasos. Three new hires on probation are not part of the suit.

According to the suit, sate code spells out compensation for holiday weeks. If a firefighter works on a legal holiday, or if the holiday falls on the firefighter’s day off, the firefighter is entitled to equivalent time off on another day or pay at time-and-a-half.

The suit says that the firefighters were never properly compensated.

In a phone interview, Nicewarner said that they have been compensated with 12 hours of  time off per holiday shift, but this is inadequate because they work 24-hour shifts.

“Actually this was something that we’ve been trying to get through for years as far as the 24 hour holidays,” he said. “We’ve always had a pretty good relationship with the city manager and city government but they never gave it to us.”

The suit notes that attempted mediation failed.

Nicewarner said, “We don’t enjoy having to sue the city we love and work for, and its citizens we protect. … Pretty much the only option we see to get this fairly resolved is the lawsuit.”

The suit demands all pay, including back pay, due the plaintiffs. This could affect some retirees, Nicewarner said.

The suit also calls for the city to pay all court costs and attorney fees, and asks the court to appoint a special commissioner to calculate individual damages.

In an email exchange with The Dominion Post’s Ben Conley, city spokesman Andrew Stacy said: “The city is aware of the firefighters’ request for additional holiday pay and is working to accommodate that request in the upcoming budget year. 

“The city communicated this intent to the firefighters, through their lawyer, prior to the filing of the lawsuit. We are disappointed that this issue could not be handled collaboratively, but we hope to continue a positive working relationship with our firefighters while these issues are resolved.

“Beyond that, we can’t comment on the merits of the case out of respect for the judicial system. With that said, the city has shown a strong commitment to paying its employees a fair wage.”