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Pittsburgh firefighters sue for overtime pay

| Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, 2:08 p.m.

Pittsburgh is facing new claims that it refuses to pay public safety workers overtime.

Three Pittsburgh firefighters sued the city on Monday, alleging that federal labor regulations made fire captains and battalion and deputy chiefs eligible for time-and-a-half pay in 2004.

Nearly a year ago, the cash-strapped city paid more than $900,000 in penalties and attorneys' fees for not paying police officers their correct overtime.

Joshua Bloom, the lawyer for fire Capt. Edmund J. Farley, Battalion Chief Robert J. Cox and Deputy Chief Harry Scherer, declined comment. City Solicitor Daniel Regan referred questions to mayor's spokeswoman Joanna Doven, who declined comment.

The firefighters' lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, Downtown, says the city refuses to pay them overtime when they work past the regular time cap. For firefighters, that limit is 212 hours in a 28-day period, or the equivalent of 53 hours a week.

“Since at least July 1, 2009, the city has been fully aware that firefighter captains, battalion chiefs and deputy chiefs have regularly worked hours in excess of 212,” the lawsuit states.

Except at the scene of a fire, captains, battalion chiefs and deputy chiefs don't manage employees or carry out other functions that would exempt them from overtime pay, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit seeks back pay for all current and former captains and chiefs that the city has denied overtime pay since 2009. Three years of recovered pay is the maximum allowed under the law.

Joe King, president of Local 1 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents the city's firefighters, couldn't be reached for comment.

Pittsburgh, which the state declared financially distressed in 2004, could pay a steep bill if the firefighters' lawsuit is successful.

Personnel records show that Pittsburgh employs about 70 fire captains, battalion chiefs and deputy chiefs who could be covered under the lawsuit.

Farley, Cox and Scherer made nearly $125,000 combined in extra pay in 2011. It wasn't clear how much of that pay came from working extra hours.

In the lawsuit that the Fraternal Order of Police filed on behalf of more than 900 police officers, the city paid $825,000 in damages for waiting more than a year to pay them overtime they were owed for hours worked between 2006 and 2008. The city paid $80,000 in fees for the officers' lawyers.

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this story. Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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