Right-to-Work States, Collective Bargaining, and the FLSA

Today’s FLSA Question: I am the president of my local firefighter’s union. I was told that since we live in a collective bargaining state and are not subject to right-to-work laws, knowledge of the FLSA is not essential for us. Is this true?

Answer: Nothing could be further from the truth.

The FLSA is a federal law. Virtually all of the fire departments throughout the country must follow the FLSA. There is no real connection between right-to-work states and the FLSA. Fire departments from collective bargaining jurisdictions must follow the same FLSA rules as their right-to-work counterparts.

Many union officials are surprised to learn the FLSA can supersede a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Collective bargaining agreements usually provide firefighters with pay and benefits above and beyond what the FLSA requires, however, when provisions of a CBA are found to be in violation of the FLSA, they are unenforceable.

Additionally, union officials responsible for negotiating CBAs should have a good working knowledge of the FLSA and how it applies to firefighters.

On a final note, I monitor litigation related to firefighters and the FLSA from across the U.S. on a daily basis. By far, firefighters in the state of California continue to outpace the rest of the nation in complaints, lawsuits, and settlements involving the FLSA. FYI, California is far from a right-to-work state.

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