Chesterton Fire Department Local 4600 of the International Association of
Fire Fighters filed a six-count lawsuit in federal court against the Town of
Chesterton, alleging--among other things--that for nine years the town
failed to compensate firefighters appropriately for overtime.
have subsequently been compensated for three of those years, after the
mistake in overtime payments was discovered by the Clerk-Treasurer’s Office
early in 2018.
But it’s the
lawsuit’s third count which is stirring something like unrest among the
town’s other municipal employees. Specifically, the suit alleges that the
town breached its contract with Local 4600 when Fire Chief John Jarka
changed the custom regarding Kelly days--otherwise known as reduction
days--by requiring firefighters to schedule one of their four annual Kelly
days at the beginning of each quarter. A Kelly day is a paid day off
provided to firefighters to reduce the department’s overtime liability, and
traditionally under CFD firefighters have been able to use those four days
“the same as their vacation time or as needed,” according to the suit.
Jarka, the suit
states, “unilaterally changed” the Kelly day policy “to greatly inhibit and
restrict firefighters’ ability to use” those four annual days.
Never mind the
suit’s contention--whether or not Jarka actually breached contract by
requiring the prior scheduling of a Kelly day--for the town’s other
municipal employees it came as disconcerting news not only that their
colleagues in the CFD get four more paid days off than they do, but
that the firefighters get any more paid days off at all.
At the Town
Council’s meeting Tuesday night, Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg
submitted a letter to members, in which the heads of the town’s other
departments convey their employees’ unhappiness with that disparity.
employees want answers to these two questions:
--“Why are the Fire
Department employees receiving an additional four days off ‘benefit’ that
none of the other town employees is receiving?”
--And why, now that
the firefighters are earning overtime pay for extra hours worked--per the
Fair Labor Standards Act--“would the Fire Department employees continue to
receive four additional paid days off?”
concludes: “The signatures below identify those department heads who have
been approached with these, or similar, questions and concerns. We recognize
our responsibility to enlighten our council members, affording them time to
prepare their response prior to town employees’ potentially attending
council meetings or utilizing the social media to express their frustration
with this issue. We welcome further discussion or clarification with you
should you desire such.”
That letter was
signed by Schnadenberg, Town Manager Bernie Doyle, Town Engineer/Building
Commissioner / Stormwater Utility Superintendent Mark O’Dell,
Clerk-Treasurer Stephanie Kuziela, and Utility Superintendent Dave Ryan.
The letter is dated
The council at
Tuesday’s meeting did not address the letter’s concerns but did vote
unanimously to take it under advisement.
For the record, in
February, when asked by the Chesterton Tribune for comment, Associate
Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson said this about Local 4600’s lawsuit: “Town of
Chesterton has paid the firefighters in accordance with the law. On its own
initiative, the town conducted a payroll audit and voluntarily corrected the
payroll error. The payments to the firefighters exceed the town’s
obligation. In addition, the firefighters continue to enjoy benefits not
received by any other Chesterton employees. Despite this, the firefighters
have filed suit against the town because they don’t like the way they are
required to follow department rules on scheduling their generous time off.
This lawsuit has no legal merit and the town is confident that it will be
exposed as a groundless attempt to intimidate the town.”
Also for the
record: during her campaign incoming Town Council Member Jennifer Fisher,
I-5th, questioned incumbents’ good faith in treating with Local 4600 and was
conspicuously endorsed by Local 4600; and incoming Town Council Member Bob
Allison, D-3rd, is himself a volunteer member of the CFD.