S.F. nears settlement with firefighters over back pay

The City may have to dole out a $750,000 legal settlement stemming from a back pay dispute over an accounting error lodged by firefighters.

Dennis Kruger and Francis Kelle are both veterans with the department and have since worked closely with San Francisco Firefighters Local 798. They claim in a lawsuit filed in March 2005 that when they retired, they were denied full compensation for the retroactive sick pay, overtime and vacation time.

At issue are special rates paid during terrorism training and for employees with more experience or education. The lawsuit claims that the higher rate of pay wasn’t included when the firefighters collected a lump-sum payment at retirement. Kelley said the lawsuit could affect hundreds of Fire Department employees. Along with Kelley and Kruger, another 14 former employees are listed on the lawsuit.

The complaint accuses the Fire Department, the Controller’s Office and the Department of Human Resources of “a consistent policy of shortchanging the separating firefighters by failing to include Training and Education Achievement Pay, Retention Pay and Terrorism Response Training Pay in the lump sum payment.”

Training and education achievement pay refers to a 6 percent hike in pay for Fire Department employee return and earn a college degree or those who have worked with the department for more than 10 years. Retention pay applies to veterans of at least 27 years with the department. They are entitled to a 2 percent raise. The terrorism training pay is part of a statewide effort to train emergency responders to react to a major terrorist threat.

Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda said city employees were shorted because The City’s accounting process wasn’t updated to include special Fire Department overtime rates as required under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The City has since started calculating the lump sum payments manually to correct the problem.

The San Francisco Fire Commission recently approved the $755,000 settlement and it goes before the rules committee Thursday for approval. More than $100,000 of the settlement will go to paying the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

bbegin@examiner.com

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