New pay schedule sparks issue with WM Fire Commission

WMFD work week unique among city departments

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

The new bi-weekly pay schedule officially rolled out to all West Memphis city departments employees at the first of the year. The move from twice-monthly checks and 24 pay days was forced by a state audit finding last year. The auditor concluded that hourly employees qualifying for overtime were being paid like salaried employees. The city was flagged for the violation with the promise to reform. Ultimately, the city worked a solution that moved to the bi-weekly pay, with a week hold back for new employees. Under the revised plan, actual hours worked and actual overtime earned would be accurately reflected on the next pay check. The new pay schedule, however, has caused some issues flame up at the West Memphis Fire Department. The Fire Department shift work is unique compared to Monday through Friday departments. A bi-weekly pay schedule, when paired with the oddly-structured WMFD work schedule, can cause wild fluctuations on check amounts — by $1,000 from pay period to pay period — for firefighters. WMFD brass brought these facts to the Fire Commission meeting on Jan. 13. “It makes it hard for our guys to budget,” said Fire Chief Wayne Gately. “Other fire departments are able to level the pay. We are already losing people to other departments in DeSoto and Shelby counties.” The actual attrition at the WMFD was eight in 2015 and seven in 2014 according to the chief. Gately, wanting to stem the attrition flow, described the fluctuating pay amounts as another hurdle to overcome when managing retention. City Councilman Tracy Catt, chairman of both the city’s Budget Committee and the Fire Department Commission, produced a pay chart showing pay amounts by paydays. Because the firefighters don’t work a typical 40-hour-per-week schedule, huge variances from paycheck to paycheck showed up on the spreadsheet. The chart covered paychecks for hourly workers in the department, firefighters from rookie to fourth year with annual step increases, drivers, paramedics, charge paramedics, and lieutenants. For a typical WMFD driver paydays range from $1,379 to $2,341 depending on the number of shifts falling into a two week pay cycle. “This gives you an idea of fluctuations in pay because of the new system,” said Catt. “Firefighters will have to adjust about how their pay comes in. While it may be disturbing at first but they will have to adjust to how their income comes in, it all balances at the end of the year.” “It’s hard to adapt to changes when it comes to your money,” replied Gately. “This hurts our hourly people. I don’t know what is going to happen (with employee retention). Memphis pays every two weeks but they are on a seven-day cycle.” “I just don’t want to lose any of them,” said Councilwoman Helen Harris, who also serves on the Fire Commission. After discussions, Catt tasked the Fire Department to issue a proposal to structure a seven-day cycle within the new bi-weekly pay schedule based on the Fair Labor Standards Act provisions and other department policies similar to the Memphis Fire Department. With a full 2016 budget still unresolved and returning to City Council on this Thursday, the issue is expected to be included in talks, which also include previously-discussed city-wide benchmark raises. The quick turnaround made any potential changes to the WMFD work or pay schedule timely. “Work it up and get in. You have seven days to have it to me,” Catt noted. “This is obviously something we need to look at and bring forward.”

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