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City: MFD leadership requested and received guidance on holiday policy changes

MORGANTOWN — According to information provided by the city of Morgantown, management within the Morgantown Fire Department requested and received guidance late last year explaining how the department should proceed in light of upcoming changes to the city’s personnel rules.

Further, Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy explained, city administration is working to ensure firefighters impacted by the apparent communication breakdown will be paid.

The Dominion Post reached out to the city regarding holiday pay issues raised publicly by firefighters during the most-recent session of Morgantown City Council.

During his remarks to council, MFD Capt. Gary Freshour laid out how a firefighter’s time off for the entire upcoming year has traditionally been scheduled in December and that it’s been common practice for the city to prorate holiday pay for firefighters whose scheduled time off for a holiday falls before the actual holiday.

Freshour said he and others were not aware that policy had changed, and as a result, a firefighter was shorted some $277 in expected holiday pay.    

Stacy said the city has spent the last year working on the first real update to its personnel rules since 1993. Those updates, which include policy pertaining to vacation, holiday and sick time, are set to take effect July 1.

Further, Stacy said, MFD leadership was aware of that, and reached out to city administration late last year to request guidance on how best to proceed.

“City administration decided that since the update to the personnel rules were going to take effect halfway through the upcoming year, the change to holiday use needed to be implemented on Jan. 1 for the Fire Department, so it could plan accordingly,” Stacy explained.

Therefore, as of Jan. 1, firefighters receive holiday time as it is earned.

Stacy added, “While city administration did make this decision known to [MFD] management they should have followed that up with a communication to all fire department employees to ensure the information was relayed.”

The relationship between the city and its fire department has been tumultuous of late, and holiday compensation has been a big part of that.

In September, Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gaujot ruled in favor of the city over its firefighters in a holiday compensation lawsuit initially filed in June 2019.

That lawsuit stated firefighters were compensated just 12 hours of holiday pay for a 24-hour shift. State law requires firefighters be compensated with 1.5 times their pay, or equal time off for hours worked for holidays.

Morgantown corrected the issue, but the legal battle for back wages continued. A $1.7 million settlement offer from the city was rejected last April and multiple attempts at mediation failed, ultimately resulting in Gaujot’s ruling.

Attorney Teresa Toriseva, representing 54 members of Morgantown Firefighters IAFF Local 313, filed an appeal of that decision with the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia on March 8.

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