The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is investigating the Johnston and Grimes fire departments, according to a report today, 9/23/2013, the Des Moines Register. The DOL is looking for wage and hour violations. The two cities share a fire chief, and some of each city’s full time firefighters also work for the other city’s fire department on a “paid on call” basis. The Register quoted the fire chief as saying, “It’s a common practice among firefighters in the Des Moines area to work paid on-call hours for another department to make more money.” The DOL is looking into the possibility that these firefighters should be considered under labor laws as working for a single employer and get paid overtime for excess hours.
Unless the fire chief is somehow forcing the fire fighters to work the extra hours, which has not been suggested, then there should be no question about the legality of the situation and the DOL should butt out. This is simply a case of Cities doing their best to share services and keep costs down for taxpayers, and giving firefighters the freedom to earn extra money. Let’s hope the DOL doesn’t screw this up.