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MA Firefighters Demand Military Training Pay

MA Firefighters Demand Military Training Pay

Boston Globe via YellowBrix

September 30, 2010

WATERTOWN, MA – Six Watertown firefighters are asking the town to compensate them for pay they say they earned while undergoing military training, according to town and union officials.

The town says its investigation shows that four of the firefighters are owed pay, and it has promised to rectify the situation quickly.

One of the firefighters, Brian Rand, completed training to become a combat medic with the US Army in 2008. He said he had been attempting to find out information on the matter even before enlisting.

“We just wanted to serve our country, and the time period we have been waiting for the town to figure this out has been very exaggerated,” Rand said. “We want answers.”

Rand and five other firefighters who have undergone training for reserves and active service say that they are owed approximately $21,000, according to the Firefighter’s Union president Tom Thibaut.

The pay is guaranteed by Chapter 33, Section 59 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which Watertown adopted in 1978. It provides paid leave for military training for public employees.

“When I became union president eight months ago, I began asking questions about this money,” Thibaut said. “The law is the law, and I can’t understand why this issue was not speedily resolved.”

Rands said he began asking the town’s Veterans Service office about training pay when he first considered rejoining the military in 2006, after a few tours in the 1990s as a Marine. He said he never received a straight answer, and after two years decided to join anyway.

“If you want to serve, you want to serve,” Rand said. “It shouldn’t be about money.”

Originally, Thibaut said, the Fire Department itself was confused about the pay. An initial investigation conducted by the fire department into the matter concluded that leave for military training was unpaid, according to Rand, Thibaut and town auditor Tom Tracy. Only after Rand spoke to town employees in similar situations in other departments did he find out about the statute guaranteeing the training pay.

“In the fire department, there was a long time where this was not an issue, whereas in other departments there have been more employees in the military so their departments knew how to address it,” Tracy said. “Going forward, we have made sure that all departments understand what their employees serving in the military are entitled to, but since this situation involves previous fiscal years, it is a little more complicated.”

In an email, town manager Mike Driscoll said that his office had conducted an investigation into the matter which revealed that four out of the original six firefighters were due pay, and that the town was working to rectify the situation.

“The town’s failure to pay the four employees in question properly for their annual military training was entirely inadvertent,” Driscoll said. “The goal has always been to see that firefighters who were entitled to receive the benefits in question actually received them.”

Driscoll said he drafted a memorandum of agreement on the correct pay for the firefighters, but Thibaut said the agreement would have meant that any additional firefighters overlooked for pay would have had no recourse.

“I don’t feel I have the right to make this kind of agreement on the firefighter’s behalf,” Thibaut said. “We shouldn’t need a memorandum when the law is clearly in place.”

Tracy said that Joe Fair, the town’s employment attorney, was in contact with attorneys with the firefighter’s union, and that he intended to make an informal recommendation to Driscoll that the money to pay the firefighters be appropriated from the town council reserve fund.

“I expect to be revisiting this issue with Town Council at their Oct. 12 meeting as part of a request for a transfer of funds to pay the affected employees,” Driscoll said.

Rand, however, filed a complaint alleging differential treatment with the state department of labor approximately 40 days ago. The complaint must be resolved within 90 days.

“I feel very optimistic that this will be handled correctly, and we will now finally get a sense of what we veterans are entitled to,” Rand said. “It’s important that we have these answers set in stone, so future veterans and firefighters who want to enter the service have something to refer to.”