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Definition of ‘employee’ in wage bill snags cities

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

The root of municipalities’ issues with overtime pay outlined in the newly signed minimum wage bill lies in its definition of “employee,” a Charleston city official said.

While current state law allows cities to pay firefighters overtime based on a federal model, the new bill makes exception only for those employed by “state agencies,” not “political subdivisions,” such as municipalities, City Manager David Molgaard wrote in an email obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

Molgaard told City Council members in the email Monday that a memo from the National Employment Law Project makes “a misplaced conclusion that municipal firefighters will remain exempt because ‘West Virginia law excludes ‘any individual employed as a firefighter by the state or agency thereof’ from the definition of ‘employee.’”

“The [National Employment Law Project] memo highlights and underscores how a zealous focus on extending the reach of minimum wage rates to the fullest extent overlooked the broader implications as to maximum hours resulting in uninformed, undebated, and unintended consequences that will cost struggling municipalities millions in the short run and exacerbate our unfunded pension liabilities and abilities to meet those obligations in the long run,” Molgaard wrote.

Charleston isn’t the only city that could be affected by the minimum wage bill. The state’s Municipal League sent an email, also obtained by the Gazette-Mail, urging its members to request Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin veto the bill. League Executive Director Lisa Dooley wrote the organization doesn’t entirely disapprove of raising the minimum wage, but that “the removal of the exemption that allows municipalities to take advantage of federal laws for scheduling of uniformed officers in the bill will cost our municipalities millions of dollars annually.”

“Our message: Please veto HB 4283. The unintended consequences are staggering for (insert your city) This bill can be fixed in a special session,” wrote Municipal League President Lisa Dooley.

Dooley’s email also said the Governor’s Office was counting calls regarding the minimum wage bill.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for Tomblin, said the office received 46 calls in support of the bill. The office received 163 calls and 85 emails against the bill.

City officials from all over the state reported to Dooley additional annual payroll expenses should municipalities no longer be exempt from overtime pay statutes as it relates to firefighter pay. Those are outlined here:

Charleston: $600,000 to $900,000

Huntington: $800,000, plus an estimated $200,000 in payroll taxes and retirement contributions

Martinsburg: $725,000, plus $175,000 in benefits

Wheeling: $319,000

Clarksburg: $300,000 to $400,000

Parkersburg: $312,413

Fairmont: $15,200 to $31,000

Bridgeport: $104,639

The city of Weirton wrote it would not be affected. Weirton pays overtime to all nonexempt employees who work more than 40 hours per week, including police and fire, according to an email to Dooley.

Tomblin did not veto the bill, but rather signed it into law Tuesday night and promised a special session next month to address issues with overtime pay.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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