Fire Fighters Included Under Wage-Hour Bill
Congress has passed a bill that for the first time establishes maximum hours that fire fighters can work without receiving overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1974 provides that “federal, state and local public employees” engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities must be paid overtime if they work more than an average of 60 hours a week after January 1, 1975.
The bill was signed by President Nixon in April.
The bill reduces the average work week to 58 hours on January 1, 1976, and to 54 hours on January 1, 1977. The average work week is based on a total of 240 hours for 28 consecutive days during the rest of this year and on 232 hours and 216 hours in 28 days during 1976 and 1977, respectively.
Fire departments with fewer than five employees are exempted from the provisions of the bill. It was said that this exempted 60 to 70 percent of the fire departments of the nation.
Work study to be made
The secretary of labor is directed to study the average tours of duty of fire fighters in 1975 and to develop an overtime compensation formula that will apply to fire departments covered by the act on January 1, 1978.
In bringing fire fighters under its coverage, the bill establishes minimum hourly wages of $1.90 on May 1, 1974; $2.00 on January 1, 1975; $2.20 on January 1, 1976; and $2.30 on January 1, 1977.
The report of the Senate and House conference committee stated that the weekly hours of work concept used for industrial and agricultural workers was cast aside and the averaging of the work week over a period of 28 days reflected “the uniqueness of the fire fighting service.”
Opposition to overtime pay and a limited work week for fire fighters was voiced by several representatives during House debate. They expressed the concern of western municipal officials about overtime costs and the fear of fire fighters that the bill might lead to reductions in the number of fire fighters.
The House debate brought out some ambiguity about the “tour of duty regulations” that fhe secretary of labor is directed to develop from a survey of working conditions. The regulations are expected to spell out whether the hours a fire fighter spends on duty are all “duty time or tour of duty time.” Any difference between duty time and tour of duty time could reduce, or possibly eliminate in some cases, the overtime that might have to be paid.