House committee holds hearing on FLSA volunteer exemption clause

House committee holds hearing on FLSA volunteer exemption clause

At a hearing held the end of October, the Worker Protection Subcommittee of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee heard oral and received written testimony for and against the National Firefighter and Rescue Squad Worker Protection Act (H.R. 94) and the 207(k) partial exemption clause of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). H.R. 94, introduced by Rep. Herbert H. Bateman (R-VA), would allow career firefighters to serve as volunteer firefighters in the same county or jurisdiction in which they work.

Bateman and Kimball Payne, county administrator for Spotsylvania County, Virginia, presented oral testimony in favor of the bill. Payne pointed out that the citizens lose when “career firefighters can no longer volunteer their skills when they are off the job.” The National Volunteer Fire Council and the International Association of Fire Chiefs presented written testimony in favor of the bill.

Frederick H. Nesbitt of the International Association of Fire Fighters argued against the measure, which, he said, “would allow employers to coerce their employees to volunteer time without overtime pay” and “would provide a tremendous financial incentive for local jurisdictions to induce firefighters to perform their duties for no pay.”

In response to Nesbitt`s claim that only volunteer firefighters and rescue workers who would not be affected by the bill supported it, Bateman submitted a letter to Subcommittee members defending his testimony. He cited specific instances in which paid firefighters in his district had requested his help in their efforts to volunteer their services in their communities and said he had received “hundreds of letters” in support of the legislation from paid firefighters. As for the coercion aspect referred to by Nesbitt, Bateman noted that “H.R. 94 takes a number of steps to ensure that workers volunteer on their own, as it requires a signed waiver of compensation and does not allow workers to volunteer at the same facility where they are employed.”

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC), who currently is crafting a comprehensive FLSA reform bill, gave no indication of whether he will include the provision contained in H.R. 94 in the broader legislation.

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