Originally created 10/24/98

Payroll problem resolved

Martinez Fire Department has cleared up its problems with the U.S. Department of Labor, an organization official said Friday.

After completing an examination of fire department payroll records, Department of Labor investigators came to an agreement with fire department officials this week, determining the amount of back-pay owed to department personnel, said David Butler, fire department administrator.

The department will pay a little more than $16,000 to compensate employees for unpaid overtime during the last two years, Mr. Butler said.

A total of 38 employees were shorted overtime pay, according to the investigation, he said.

"We were not found to be in any blatant violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act," he said. "We had just screwed up along the line, and there were a couple hours here and a couple hours there according to which shifts (employees) worked."

Labor investigators began going over the department's payroll records and interviewing employees about four weeks ago.

What prompted the probe is still a mystery. Labor officials refused to comment on the case until the filed was closed.

"I can't comment, because we don't have a closed investigation," said Dan Fuqua, U.S. Department of Labor spokesman.

As Columbia County's largest fire department, Martinez Fire Department serves most of the county's population. Operating as a private, nonprofit corporation, its $2.4 million operating budget is generated through subscription fees paid by homeowners and businesses.

Martinez firefighters work 24-hour shifts followed by 48 hours off, said department officials.

That schedule had firefighters working an extra 24-hour shift every third week. And after standard deductions for sleep and meal times, the firefighters were still on the clock for about 42 hours.

The trouble was that Martinez wasn't paying overtime for those extra two hours, said department Chief Doug Cooper. Now the department will have to adjust work schedules if it wants to avoid future overtime pay, Mr. Butler said. How it will accomplish that has yet to be determined.

"We've got several different options that we are looking at now," he said. "Honestly, we don't know exactly what we're going to do. They (labor officials) have given us about five weeks to get everything ready before they come and inspect again."

Some of the firefighters who have already received their back pay, felt the overtime money was unwarranted, Mr. Butler said. "About 10 or 12 of them came by this morning and wanted to give it back."

S.B. Crawford covers police and fire for The Augusta Chronicle's Columbia County Bureau. He can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 111, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.


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