Firefighter's Union, NOFD square off in the hearing

Union wants to stop the Department from taking away vacation time

Thomas Perumean
February 20, 2020 - 6:40 am

Lawyers for New Orleans Firefighters and Department heads will be in court today as a hearing takes place over a temporary restraining order sought by the firefighters to stop management from taking away vacation time off. 

The suit, filed on February 12, came about as the Firefighter's Association told the Department firefighters would no longer voluntarily work overtime.  Firefighters say covering extra shifts meant spending as much as 96-hours a week on the job.  The Firefighters said the work was leaving them exhausted and potentially compromising their ability to do their job safely. 

New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Timothy McConnell canceled firefighters' vacation and annual leave until further notice.  NOFD said it was necessary to protect the city and staff firehouses adequately. 

Speaking out on the issue, Attorney Clement Donelon, a labor lawyer, voiced his opinion about the actions of the NOFD:  "Once you've earned something that is under Louisiana law considered wages, I don't care who it is, I don't think they can take it off the books just unilaterally, in my opinion, because you get into some due process issues."

According to the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, the directive is temporary and is only supposed to last until the City is through the Carnival season.  The directive reportedly includes provisions to force firefighters to work overtime if necessary. 

The Union representing firefighters called Superintendent McConnell's directive "cruel and vindictive"; proving the department is operating perennial short staffing at least 25% below the needed level of manpower. 

"I don't believe that any employer can, once you've earned wages, take it away from you," Donelon says.  "And just to unilaterally, previously give you something and just take it away, to me is them unilaterally taking wages out of your pocket—that's my opinion." 

Donelon emphasizes Firefighters, as public employees have special considerations and rights to their jobs. 

"When you're a public employee, under the law, you have what's called a property right to your job, unlike a private sector employee who is at-will," Donelon says. 

Donelon points out:  "If you have earned some kind of benefit, like pay.  For a public employer to take it away from you, they have to give you some kind of due process."

Today's hearing starts at 9 a.m. WWL will be following the story closely. 

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