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Firefighters get $5 million back pay settlement

(Published August 13, 2001)

By CHRIS SMITH

Staff Writer

D.C. firefighters received a long-awaited settlement package Aug. 10 totaling $5 million as reimbursement for money inadvertently taken from their paychecks during the 1990s – something Fire Chief Ronnie Few called a "positive step toward boosting morale."

About 1,700 firefighters will receive one lump-sum check – ranging from $800 to $5,000 - in repayment of "pretax" deductions made between 1993 and 1999 for life and health benefits from already-taxed income .

"We are happy to resolve the issue," Few said during an Aug. 7 press briefing at his office. "We had to work through some red tape to get this done, but I had the support of Mayor Anthony Williams and Deputy Mayor Margret Kellums all the way."

Lt. Raymond Sneed, president of the International Association of Fighters Local 36, said the union is satisfied with what the city has done to correct its mistake.

Congress approved the back pay funds at the end of July as part of the District’s supplemental fiscal 2001 budget during the week of July 30, officially ending the firefighters’ eight-year wait for compensation.

"I am pleased the District was finally able to pay back the firefighters’ awards," said Councilwoman Kathleen Patterson, D-Ward 3, who chairs the council committee with oversight of the fire department.

The root of the city’s mistakes were compensation payments of two section benefits included in a collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the District and Local 36 of the firefighters’ association in 1992. However, the benefits were not implemented until 1999 despite repeated attempts by Local 36, resulting in mounting back pay for firefighters.

The District and Local 36 issued a Memorandum of Understanding providing that the section programs be implemented without further delay and that all back pay be payable no later than July 18 of the same year. However, back pay was still not distributed and Local 36 threatened legal action in May 2000, prompting newly appointed Chief Few to take action.

"The District sat on the collective bargaining agreement in July 1999," Sneed said. "We had to stop the hemorrhaging."

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator