174 New Haven firefighters sue city over lost wages

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NEW HAVEN - Nearly 200 current and former New Haven firefighters are suing the city for overtime pay, citing a violation of a federal law.

In January 2014, when the local firefighters union president was filing an overtime grievance, he decided to read up on the Fair Labor Standards Act. Now he’s glad he did.

“I realized that the city had been making mistakes since 2006 in paying the proper overtime rate to firefighters,” said Capt. Jim Kottage, the Local 825 President.

The FLSA states that firefighters, working over 212 hours in a 28-day period, are entitled to overtime pay, which is to include compensation equal to 1.5 times their hourly rate and other negotiated benefits.

“We have longevity and acting pay and both EMT and hazmat incentives,” says Kottage, who is among the 174 firefighters to file a lawsuit in Hartford federal court. He claims the city has not paid the fringe benefits.

Dating back three years, Captain Kottage says these plaintiffs worked over 400,000 hours of overtime and were not compensated according to federal law.

“Even if it's only a couple of dollars an hour, you're talking $800,000. But, then there’s damages, because if it's woeful and wanton, there could double the award,” he said.

Kottage said other fire departments, who have filed and won very similar overtime suits, served as fuel to New Haven’s fire.

“We had Naugatuck, Waterbury. But, this is a nationwide issue. You have issues in Los Angeles, Chicago,” he said.

The International Association of Firefighters provided the New Haven local with $15,000 of seed money to assist with legal costs. Kottage says the city should not be faced with anywhere near as much overtime in the future because 115 new firefighters were recently hired.