Anne Arundel firefighters union seeks arbitration of overtime grievance

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

The Anne Arundel County firefighters union is seeking arbitration with the county, accusing County Executive Steve Schuh’s administration of not releasing information related to overtime underpayments to firefighters.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 1563 filed grievances accusing the county of not releasing its overtime formula or explaining how some firefighters received smaller paychecks than expected based on overtime hours. A letter advancing the grievance to arbitration was sent to the county Oct. 1.

A county spokesman called the union’s decision election-year politics.

“Our question is, very simply, what time records is the county keeping, and what arithmetic formula is it using to compute overtime pay,” union President Joe Addivinola wrote in the letter.

County firefighters — and other county staff — are due for reimbursement after the county discovered an error in overtime calculations dating back 17 years. But the firefighters union said the county had not released its overtime formula calculations nor had it explained why some firefighters were underpaid overtime after the long-running formula error was fixed.

Initially, the county had not released the formula to the union and its lawyers. Schuh’s spokesman, Owen McEvoy, said releasing the formulas would be difficult because different calculations may have been used over the 17-year period spanning multiple administrations and computer software.

“It is a very complicated process, it is a massive undertaking,” McEvoy said. “This is going to take six to nine months. Screaming like a kid in Toys R Us doesn’t make this process move quicker.”

But Tuesday, an ADP pamphlet was given to the union. The pamphlet detailed how the company calculates overtime to avoid breaking Department of Labor rules. The overtime is calculated at time-and-a-half. The firefighters union contract also stipulates overtime is time-and-a-half.

Union representatives said the pamphlet may have answered the formula question, but it didn’t resolve other issues. The union will continue seeking arbitration. In arbitration, an independent party will review both the county’s and firefighters’ offers or claims and choose between the two.

Questions about overtime formulas and payments are the result of news in May that the county had been underpaying overtime for 17 years. The county’s previous payroll company had an error in the calculation, resulting in an estimated $3 million to $5 million in underpayments.

The total cost still isn’t known, nor is it known how much each employee will be repaid. McEvoy said some firefighters should be prepared to receive as little as $5 while others may receive $3,000.

The county hired an outside group to do a forensic audit on the overtime payments and estimated it would take six to nine months to complete the investigation and begin repayments to employees. Schuh’s administration has pledged to repay every employee that was underpaid.

Fights in the past

The firefighters union and the county have had a history of clashes.

Under the Schuh administration, the union has gone into arbitration over contract negotiations in 2016 and 2018. Firefighters won both of those cases. The union also went into arbitration over two grievances. One of those was decided in the county’s favor, while the other was settled in favor of the union.

The Local 1563 endorsed Schuh’s Democratic opponent Steuart Pittman in this year’s county executive race. Pittman received endorsements from the core public safety unions for firefighters and police, as well as the teacher’s union. Schuh has been endorsed by unions representing firefighter battalion chiefs, detention officers, park rangers, deputy sheriffs, police supervisors and non-public safety county employees.

The firefighters union did not endorse a candidate for county executive in 2014.

Addivinola released a letter Monday explaining why the union didn’t back Schuh. He said the county executive talks about supporting public safety workers but doesn’t follow through.

One of several examples he gave was the return of the SAFER grant, a $7 million grant that would have brought on 52 new firefighters. The County Council voted to cut the grant after Schuh’s administration argued it would be too much of a financial burden to continue paying the firefighters after the grant ended.

Megan Miller, Schuh’s campaign spokeswoman, said the county executive values the fire department and his budget reflects that.

“He has raised firefighter salaries four years in a row by a total of 25 percent, improved recruiting practices to fill vacancies, provided funding for six new fire stations, and purchased nine major pieces of fire apparatus — all without raising taxes,” Miller said.

“It is sad that the leaders of IAFF 1563 are using fear tactics and misrepresenting Mr. Schuh's record in order to advance their political agenda. This letter is a prime example of how this union's leadership clique has chosen to work with the county executive and his administration.”

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