Collective Bargaining, Work Periods, and the FLSA

Today’s FLSA Question: I am the financial manager for a small fire protection district. I recently attended your FLSA for Fire Departments seminar. One of my biggest take-aways from the 3-day class relates to firefighter work periods. But now I have a follow-up question.

Our firefighters work 24-hour shifts for an average of 56 hours per week. We process payroll weekly. The firefighters are paid overtime for all hours worked over 53 every 7 days. After the class, I understand our district could utilize a 28-day work period, as opposed to the 7-day work period we currently follow. If my math is correct, the district will be able to save over $50,000 in overtime next year alone, simply by changing the firefighters’ work period from 7 to 28 days.

Our firefighters are represented by the IAFF and while we have a good working relationship with the firefighters’ union, this $50,000 annual savings will come from reducing FLSA overtime paid to the firefighters. Here is my question: Does the FLSA require us to bargain with the union over changing the firefighters’ work period?


Answer: Excellent question. The FLSA does not require employers to bargain with employees or employee representatives over work periods. But, before you get too excited, your question is not really an FLSA question. Your question is rooted in your local jurisdiction’s collective bargaining laws related to public employees. Since not all jurisdictions treat bargaining with public employees the same way, you will need a local attorney familiar with state labor relations law to make that determination.

Quick time-out before we go much further. If anybody is wondering; “What is a work period?” Check this out for more information.

Paying Firefighters . . . It’s all about the work period

Now, back to your question. . .

As an example, in 2009, a Massachusetts court found that the City of Boston violated state labor relations laws by failing to bargain with city police officers over the implementation of a 28-day work period. The City of Boston argued there was no requirement to bargain over the adoption of a work period, since federal law (the FLSA) always preempts state law. Generally speaking, the city was correct. When a federal law conflicts with state law, the federal law will preempt (or for lack of a better word, trump) state law. However, the court found there was no such conflict here.

Specifically, the court found the FLSA provides an opportunity for the city to elect longer work periods, and the city has every right to exercise this option. But, since this change would have a significant effect on the police officers’ wages, it was a “mandatory subject of bargaining” under Massachusetts law. As a result, the city was ordered by the court to sit down and collectively bargain any changes to the officers’ work period.

Now, this is Massachusetts. Not all states view collective bargaining with public employees the way the Bay State does . . .

The State of North Carolina has made it illegal for public employers to collectively bargain with government employees. Suffice it to say—bargaining over the work period in North Carolina would not be a concern for your organization.

To get back to your question: The answer rests solely on where you live. Very seldom is there a clarity when it comes to the FLSA, however if you really want to get down in the weeds, insert some state law into the mix!

If you have questions about FLSA work periods for firefighters, please consider joining us at one of our upcoming FLSA for Fire Departments seminars. BTW, if you register on-line for the Atlanta class by November 1st, you can save $100.

Mesa, Arizona, December 4-6, 2018

Atlanta / Covington, Georgia, January 15-17, 2019

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