Oral arguments in the dispute between members of International Association of Firefighters Local 313 (IAFF), which is the Morgantown firefighters’ union, and the City of Morgantown were heard before the West Virginia Supreme Court Wednesday after the firefighters appealed a previous ruling by Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip D. Gaujot granting judgment for the city.
The lawsuit claims the city did not fully compensate firefighters for shifts worked on holidays. Gaujot’s ruling said firefighters were entitled to time off or additional pay only during the legal holiday itself, but the state Wage Payment and Collection Act (WPCA) does not apply to this case, so the City of Morgantown did not fail to pay “wages” or “fringe benefits” to the firefighters.
Firefighters in Morgantown work 24-hour shifts beginning at 8 a.m. so they did not receive holiday pay for hours worked outside the official holiday.
Representing the IAFF 313 is Attorney Teresa Toriseva, who believes that the clear language of the statute mandates that firefighters get holiday pay whether they work the holiday or not. On Wednesday, she argued that holiday pay “must be calculated on the entire 24-hour shift.”
The court is tasked with deciding whether holiday pay under the firefighter holiday pay statute is a “wage” under the Wage Payment Collection Act and whether a firefighter will be paid for their entire shift or just the portion.
“This is an enhanced benefit that they get for working those long hours and for always being ready to rescue West Virginians from burning buildings,” she said.
Toriseva argued that firefighters’ 24-hour shift is typically considered one calendar day when calculating payroll, sick days, vacation days, etc. regardless of when the shift begins, so holiday pay should be calculated that way as well.
According to Toriseva, Morgantown’s approach as allowed by the now retired Gaujot’s order, is an outlier and other cities in the state compensate firefighters on a holiday the way she says the law requires–based on the 24 hour shift.
“Charleston, Wheeling, Huntington, Martinsburg, Dunbar, Bluefield, Beckley, Weirton and Clarksburg, just to name a few, calculate professional firefighter holiday pay based on the 24 shift—Morgantown does not,” Toriseva said. “The Supreme Court will have the final say now.”
Nearly 100 firefighters from across the state came to hear the argument as the court’s decision could impact firefighters statewide.
“We had firefighters from the northern and eastern panhandles traveling several hours to attend the argument. The Court’s ruling is important to them, and all other first responders, as it will directly impact their pay now and long term into the future,” Toriseva said.
City attorney Ryan Simonton argued Judge Gaujot was correct in his ruling and the firefighters’ claims are not subject to the WPCA because the case is not about wages, but how much paid time off should be given. He said Morgantown pays holiday time off in full when it’s due.
The Dominion Post reached out to Simonton for additional comment on the case, but did not receive a reply in time for press.
The Supreme Court will deliver a written opinion on the dispute later this year.