PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Senate Committee on Labor has approved a pair of bills that would mandate a 42-hour work week for all Rhode Island firefighters.
The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House earlier this month and would ensure firefighters who work more than 42 hours receive overtime pay.
“I think it’s a matter of fundamental fairness,” Sen. Frank Lombardi said. “I think we as a society believe that there are a certain number of hours that people should be working and beyond that number of hours we should be paying them over time, time and a half, I think it’s particularly poignant when we deal with firefighters.”
The bills are supported by fire labor unions, which believe it promotes fairness in pay for firefighters. But it also faces opposition from cities and towns, which say it hinders negotiations and would cost the taxpayers in communities where a 42-hour week isn’t already in place.
“The main concern is, this is a local decision that managers have, managers and mayors they have to make these difficult decisions,” Brian Daniels of the Rhode Island League for Cities and Towns said. “Finances are very challenging in cities and towns and they have to staff and equip their fire department and other public safety decisions in a way that works best for them.”
Currently, three fire departments statewide do not already work a 42-hour workweek. Central Coventry currently operates on a 56-hour work week and pay their firefighters overtime after 53 hours, which federal law allows.
President of the Central Coventry Fire District Board of Directors Fred Gralinkski told Eyewitness News earlier this month that if the bill passes, it would cost the town more than $720,000 to implement. He said he’s concerned taxpayers could feel the impact.
“We’re well aware of the need to properly compensate our dedicated fire responders,” Gralinski said. “But supporting this bill eliminates one tool that communities can use to curb costs.”
The bills now head to the full Senate for a vote.