Morgantown firefighters vote “no confidence” in city manager, promise legal action

Monongalia and Preston

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – After issuing a vote of no confidence against new City Manager Kim Haws, the firefighter’s union is now planning on bringing forward several lawsuits against the city over what it calls “retaliation”.

Teresa Toriseva, the union’s lawyer, said the professional firefighters of the IAFF 313 have been targeted by Haws and the city for refusal to settle in a 2019 case over holiday pay.

Toriseva

The original case is about holiday pay and there’s been extensive effort to resolve that and that’s failed, that’s been a battle,” Toriseva said. And the new problem, which gave rise to the unanimous no-confidence in this brand new City Manager.

Teresa Toriseva – Attorney

The vote, she said, came after Haws’ decision to “[unilaterally] eliminate” shift differential, “which is a little bump in pay if you work midnight, or if you work afternoon shifts.”

“It was just unceremoniously canceled about a month after settlement negotiations broke down on the holiday pay lawsuit, where the city wants the firefighters to accept a settlement amount that’s about half of a five-year period, to which they’re entitled,” Toriseva said. “And the reason they’re entitled to five years is because the law limits it to five years. The city has been doing holiday pay wrong for going on four decades.”

Morgantown Fire Engine 3 parked in front a firehouse

However, the City of Morgantown is strongly pushing back against this assertion, stating that there is no retaliation going on. In a statement, it pointed out what it saw as “several inaccurate statements” being made regarding shift differential.

The statement reads, in part, as follows:

“For clarification, the City Personnel Rules provide a shift differential for employees who work the afternoon shift and the night shift. With a new city manager starting in December, and through work with a consultant on a Classification and Compensation Study and updates to City Personnel Rules, city administration identified inconsistencies in how some employees were claiming shift differential. All department directors were notified to check those practices and make sure shift differential was being paid equally to all our employees as laid out in the personnel rules.”

It continues later by saying:

“The fact is that shift differential applies to ALL employees, not just one department. We will continue to review our employment and pay practices to ensure that they are being adhered to and that we treat all city employees equally under our established rules. Ensuring the Personnel Rules are applied equally is not retaliation for the lawsuit filed by some of the firefighters regarding holiday pay and suggesting otherwise ignores the rules.”

As of Monday morning, March 29, Toriseva said the city had not reached out to the union concerning the matter. Regardless, she said, they will push on.

That because what she and the union are fighting against is what they see as a city that “seems to be enjoying litigation”.

“We do want to highlight retaliatory behavior,” Toriseva said. “We want it to stop. The fire department doesn’t want to have that type of relationship with the city management, but you can’t have these circumstances continue, litigation growing, without it affecting recruitment and retention for the department.”

That is why the union has filed a holiday pay lawsuit in the Monongalia Co. Circuit Court. In addition, Toriseva said she wants to move ahead in fighting on behalf of 52 firefighters whose pay was cut.

“There’s a holiday pay lawsuit,” she said. “It’s pending before a judge in Morgantown, Judge Gaujot. And it’s set for pretrial in June. There are other and more lawsuits coming within the week as we are developing our evidence. We already have some and we are developing more. We expect to file this time next week, if not sooner. Because the paychecks of the firefighters are immediately affected because of this draconian move by this brand new city manager.”

You can read Morgantown’s entire statement, here.

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