Nine Aberdeen, South Dakota Firefighters Sue City For Overtime Pay

Nine Aberdeen firefighters have filed a lawsuit against the city seeking overtime pay they believe they're entitled to.

The firefighters and city disagree on the interpretation of a clause of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Firefighters Rob Senger, Mike Eliason, Jeff Fiferlick, Mario Gourde, Austin Hearnen, Rob Johnson, Brooks Kleffman, Tim A. Mendenwald and Keith A. Sharisky are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. They have requested a jury trial in federal court in hopes of being compensated.

The lawsuit was filed this month. No court date has been set.

City officials and the firefighters disagree as to whether the employees are entitled to overtime pay when they swap shifts.

The city does not pay hourly workers overtime unless they've logged more than 40 hours, not including vacation time and the like. That's not in contention. But firefighters are different than most city employees in that they work 24-hour shifts. And because they do, they're allowed to trade shifts with co-workers as many as a dozen times a year if they have schedule conflicts. It's when that happens, that is when the city and firefighters disagree on pay.

If a firefighter trades a shift or a portion of a shift, he may wind up working more than the normal number of hours per week. Right now, though, he's not given credit toward overtime for those hours. The firefighters in the suit feel either those extra hours or the ones they were originally scheduled to work should be credited toward overtime.

The law is clear that the firefighters deserve the overtime pay they seek, according to Senger, head of the local firefighters union.

Under the city's interpretation of the federal law, though, neither set of hours has to be counted toward overtime. Mark Anderson, city attorney, said the Fair Labor Standards Act has a special exception that allows firefighters to swap shifts without that time counting towards overtime. The exception is a special one that is not afforded to other city employees, he said.

Anderson said he's asked the firefighters' attorneys to show him where the law says the firefighters are owed the overtime, but hasn't been provided with such information.

The lawsuit asks that the jury find that the city "willfully and wrongfully violated its statutory obligations." It asks that the overtime, as well as any interest, be paid. It also asks that the jury "grant such other relief as may be just and proper."

Senger said there have been other similar suits filed in other communities. He and Anderson agree that relations between the firefighters and city are good despite the suit.

According to the lawsuit, it's not known how much money is allegedly owed the firefighters. The hours in question stretch over the past few years.