The City and 31 Department of Public Works (DPW) employees are preparing for what will likely be a long legal battle over alleged overtime wage violations that could go back decades.
Nearly every unionized employee of the DPW, from the everyday workers to key supervisors, are part of the federal lawsuit that is currently winding its way through federal court right now – having been filed earlier this year just after the new administration took office. In short, it alleges that DPW employees have been shorted their proper pay for overtime work, and in some cases that adds up to very large amounts of money over many decades, according to Attorney Dan Rice.
Rice – who represents the DPW Union and its workers – has brought similar cases against municipalities in Lynn, Lowell and Suffolk County. He said Revere owes some employees thousands of dollars, though the workers may not get what is truly owed them because the suit is restricted to going back only three years.
“What’s going on is Revere has not calculated the overtime of DPW employees correctly for probably decades,” he told the Journal. “As a result of that, it has retained wages DPW employees have earned. This suit seeks to make employees whole to the fullest extent the law allows, which is three years back from the date of the lawsuit. Also, moving forward, we’re looking for them to calculate overtime pay correctly and we’re calling for liquid, or double, damages.”
He said that the frustrating part of the case is that some employees have worked for 20 or 30 years and have allegedly not been paid correctly in all of those years.
“The frustrating part is Revere has really realized a huge windfall by violating the law over years and years because the law doesn’t allow my guys to get paid for everything they’ve missed,” he said. “Some guys are 20 years or more on the job and these are dollars they should have in their bank accounts helping to pay for retirement, helping to get kids through college and helping them to take vacations.”
City Solicitor Paul Capizzi said that the case is in its very formative stages, and the City has not taken much action yet on the case. One move they have made is to hire an outside labor attorney, Paul Mulkern of Milton. Mulkern has handled several labor negotiations and disputes for the City over the last several years.
Mulkern declined to comment on the case, but Capizzi said they are looking into the allegations.
“Our outside counsel is working with the City to determine if these allegations are accurate and correct,” he said. “Obviously, if they’re right, we’ll proceed and correct what they believe is a problem and probably move to settle. If they’re wrong, we’ll disagree. We don’t have a lot of concrete information yet. It’s very, very early in this and it’s one of those cases where a lot of paperwork has to be gone through to find out who worked when and at what rate they were paid.”
The crux of the case falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which also includes the minimum wage law – among other things.
DPW workers allege the City violated that law by not using the correct base pay to calculate “time and a half” overtime pay. By the same law, all employers are required to at least pay 1.5 times a worker’s base pay for all hours worked above 40 hours in one week.
The suit alleges that the City used a simple base pay for decades to calculate overtime, and did not figure in things like longevity, shift differential or certain licenses – all of which bump up a DPW workers’ pay rate.
“What Revere and other employers do is they pay the overtime wages on the basis of simple hourly wages and don’t factor in longevity pay, shift differential or pay increases for certain licenses,” said Rice. “When they do the overtime calculations, they’re shorting the employees and that happens every week. If you calculate that out over 20 or 30 years, we’re talking about very, very big amounts of money. These are working guys we’re talking about, right out of central casting, and they’re doing hard work in very cold and hot conditions. Like most people, they trusted the calculations were correct and didn’t recalculate their paychecks every week. ”
Rice would not comment on how Revere DPW workers came to find out that they were potentially being shorted on overtime pay, citing attorney-client privilege.
A similar overtime pay case in Lynn was just settled in June for an undisclosed sum of money after it had been in the court system for two years.
In Lowell, Rice’s clients – also in the DPW – prevailed in a case that finally ended in 2011 after nearly five years. Typically, clients are also awarded damages and attorney fees.
In the case against the City, Federal Judge Douglas Woodlock is assigned to the case. In May, he ordered that all discovery be finished in the case by the end of this year. Both parties are to have filed a Joint Status Report by March 14, 2013 indicating all that has happened in the interim, including settlement discussions.