PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The book is officially closed on a years-long dispute between the city of Providence and its firefighters now that the city paid $6.1 million to settle state and federal lawsuits regarding overtime payments in recent years.
Victor Morente, a spokesperson for the Elorza administration, confirmed more than 450 current or former firefighters received payments ranging from $10.16 to $51,672 earlier this month. The city initially planned to pay the settlement over two years, but Morente said the payments were made “in one lump sum.”
The average recipient was paid just under $13,500 before taxes based on the number of hours worked, although the majority of the city’s newest firefighters received less than $1,000, according to a list of payouts obtained through a public records request. Twenty-seven firefighters were paid more than $30,000.
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The city agreed to pay the firefighters last year to settle separate disputes: one was a lawsuit – and dozens of grievances – over hours worked during Mayor Jorge Elorza’s short-lived department shift change; the other was a suit accusing the city of violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when calculating overtime.
Elorza’s shift change required firefighters to go from working an average of 42 hours per week to an average of 56 hours, and it prompted more than 100 retirements in the department, leading to an increase in overtime spending. (A provision in the union contract required 94 firefighters to be on duty at all times.)
The union sued the city over the changes, arguing that its members should be paid time-and-a-half for each hour they worked after 42 hours in a week; the city unilaterally gave the firefighters an 8% pay increase and did pay time-and-a-half after 53 hours, which is required under federal law.
The two sides ultimately agreed on a five-year contract that lowered the minimum manning requirement from 94 firefighters to 88, but also allowed the firefighters to go back to working an average of 42 hours per week.
The city paid $2.8 million to cover back wages for that part of the dispute.
For the FLSA lawsuit, Providence paid $3.3 million to resolve the union’s claim that the city failed to include negotiated longevity payments when calculating overtime amounts. Although that lawsuit was filed prior to Elorza taking office, the vast majority of the money the city owed the firefighters was accrued after he became mayor.
Aside from the payments, the city also agreed to provide a 64-hour bank of paid leave to each active firefighter, although the union agreed that its members won’t use their new hours if their absence forces the city to pay time-and-a-half to replace them.