UPDATE: City of Morgantown resolves claim with firefighters over pay dispute; city council must still approve

Monongalia

UPDATE (5/7/21 6:43 p.m.):

MORGANTOWN. W.Va. – The City of Morgantown and certain individual firefighters, who are members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 313, have mutually resolved the firefighters’ claim that they were entitled shift differential pay under the Personnel Rules of the City of Morgantown.

According to a press release, this is pending the approval of the terms by Morgantown City Council.

The parties anticipate releasing a joint statement upon city council approval and approval by the firefighters.


ORIGINAL STORY (4/15/21 7:37 p.m.):

The legal dispute between the City of Morgantown and its firefighters union, IAFF 313, has reached the next step.

The dispute started after firefighters issued a vote of no confidence against City Manager Kim Haws. Firefighters allege that the city cut their pay by eliminating what is known as shift differential, a type of pay bump for certain shifts, as a means to retaliate against them for refusing to accept a 2019 settlement. On Wednesday, April 14, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) unanimously ruled, 3–0, that it had the authority to hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter on May 12.

Toriseva

“We respect the process. I know that firefighters don’t like litigation, but they have been—they don’t have a choice here. We actually are pleased that the CSC is going to take evidence on this very important matter, so that there can be a quick resolution. Because the CSC offers a much faster remedy than you can find in circuit court, through civil litigation.”

Teresa Toriseva – Attorney, IAFF 313

The commission’s decision to hold a hearing came despite the city’s objections.

Now, along with a handful of firefighters, some city officials will be required to testify. Those individuals include City Manager Kim Haws, Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli and Fire Chief Mark Caravasos.

Toriseva said the city will have the burden of proof, and it has to show good cause for its actions at the hearings. However, for its part, the city has always dismissed the retaliation claims and maintained its innocence.

If Morgantown can prove in front of the commission that it was not retaliating, then it will be successful in winning just one of many battles Toriseva and the fire union are ready to wage.

Morgantown Municipal Building

That’s because the union plans to fight the city until it gets some sort of resolution to what it sees as unjust behavior.

“We are going to continue to fight through using the law and the court system,” Toriseva said. “It’s the only remedy that firefighters have. It’s the appropriate remedy. But, we do intend to resolve this. We believe that this pay cut is illegal, and we are going to push until we have that resolution. And, that can happen at the CSC level. They have the authority to reverse the pay cut, to order the back pay to the date of the first time it occurred, which would have been March 26, the first paycheck that firefighters experienced that cut.”

She continued.

“And then, if the city wants to appeal while the firefighters are getting their proper pay, if they want to litigate something for years, it certainly changes the dynamic.”

The CSC hearing is an important step in the legal dispute, Toriseva said, and it is meant to be quick.

She described its role in helping to mitigate the dispute as “very, very important.”

“CSC is very important to employees who otherwise have no power if an employer is bullying them,” she said.

Morgantown’s South Side Station

In an effort to resolve this matter as quickly and efficiently as possible, the commission recommended a sit down between the two parties prior to the evidentiary hearing in May.

They are to meet by or before April 30.

“We’ve been asked by the commission to mediate the dispute and try to resolve it, which we’re always willing to do,” Toriseva said. “The firefighters always want to put fights to bed with the city, they don’t want to be involved in this litigation. But they just don’t want their wages taken or cut improperly. And, so we’re going to be doing that.”

She continued.

“Both sides agreed, at the commission’s request, because they don’t have the authority to order it, but they did ask, and we agreed. They order it done by the 30th, so that if it can be agreed, it’s before the hearing and before a lot of time and effort is spent doing that on May 12.”

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