BLYTHEVILLE, Ark. — Firefighters in Blytheville are taking legal action against the city, claiming they’re not being paid proper overtime wages and are unfairly pressured to respond to calls, even when they are off-duty.
The legal action laid out in a demand letter sent to the city’s attorney says the city violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and seeks damages for firefighters.
According to the attorney for Blytheville firefighters, the issue is an on-call policy dating back at least to 2017 in which all personnel must be available 24 hours a day if needed to be called back in for an emergency.
The personnel face disciplinary action up to termination if they fail to respond and aren’t compensated for being on-call, unless they’re actually called into work.
WREG repeatedly requested an interview Wednesday with attorney James Harris about the pending legal action against the city, but we were instead referred to a news release he issued to the Blytheville Courier newspaper.
In the release, Harris stated in part that almost every BFD employee believes they have not been paid proper overtime… Our men and women in the fire department … should not be cheated out of what they are entitled to under the law, yet that is exactly what has happened.”
Harris said the policy is restrictive and prevents firefighters from having normal lives while off-duty. Harris is seeking damages for firefighters.
Blytheville city attorney Chris Brown said he isn’t aware of any lawsuit being filed against the city at this time but has received the demand letter.
“Basically, he sent a letter letting us know he represents some of the firemen and that he believes, or the firemen believe, they are not being paid properly, and he is demanding that we pay a certain amount of money by a certain date,” Brown said. “At the time, I am consulting with the Arkansas Municipal League, and we are reviewing the allegations in the demand.”
We reached out to the Blytheville Firefighters’ Union representative for a comment but have not heard back from him.