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Home > Columnists > Alice Park
December 13, 2011

Paterson firefighters demand overtime pay owed from Hurricane Irene

The Paterson Firefighters Association and the Paterson Fire Officer’s Association have filed grievances against the City of Paterson for “violating contractually specified conditions.” The city’s council has yet to release overtime pay per Article 8 and Article 9.1 of the contracts between the unions and the City, for services rendered in the wake of Hurricane Irene. The pay period covers a span of two weeks, between September 3 and September 16.  “Unfortunately, the City Council has been completely uncooperative in living up to the terms of our agreement and left us no choice but to take this action demanding that our contacts are upheld,” said Carlos Pagan, President of Paterson Firefighters Association, and Brian Burns, Paterson Fire Officer’s Association, in a joint statement.

   Council Finance Chairman Kenneth Morris decided and convinced his colleagues to agree to withhold payments until the city administration provided detailed reports, specifying the days and times worked, and itemizing duties performed. Pagan and Burns continued to protest, “What is most disconcerting is the fact that this overtime was earned while our members were putting lives on the line responding to the hundreds of emergencies arising from Hurricane Irene. The many acts of bravery by Paterson firefighters during the flooding were well documented. It is truly appalling that we are being forced to go through the grievances process to collect these contractually obligated overtime payments.”

   The firefighters’ unions are not the first to publicly denounce Morris’s decision. They are joining the police union, which filed its grievance on November 19. The Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local #1 president, Alex Cruz, said, “It’s a violation of the contract. Our people worked these hours and are entitled to be paid for them. It seems like the city does whatever it wants to do.” Using apparent deduction skills, Morris countered, “Absent the documents, the message you’re sending is that those hours weren’t actually worked.”

    Pagan and Burns see the frozen overtime checks as a political game of chess, where firefighters are being used as pawns, as the decision from Morris came after the Paterson council discovered $756,000 worth of flood overtime checks were issued to department heads. Overtime checks were delivered to Mayor Jeffery Jones and his chief of staff, Charles Pettiford, who received $6,144 and $4,446 respectively. These payments were returned to Paterson’s general operations fund once the state declared the payments were improper, since rank and file government employees are traditionally not entitled to overtime.  

   Morris claims he has yet to have received the requested overtime information saying, “I don’t know what the big problem is.”

   Pagan and Burns, however, are certain the grievance procedure will work in their favor and the firefighters “will be fully compensated for the work they performed for all the residents of Paterson during Hurricane Irene.”

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