Hanford

Judge sides with Hanford fire captains. They will get double back overtime pay

Planes dump water on fire that’s burned thousands of acres

Hanford firefighters battle the Silver Dollar fire in 2017, trying to "keep it from encroaching on civilian inhabited regions" say officials with the Hanford Fire Department's union firefighters.
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Hanford firefighters battle the Silver Dollar fire in 2017, trying to "keep it from encroaching on civilian inhabited regions" say officials with the Hanford Fire Department's union firefighters.

Hanford fire captains must be paid overtime going back two years, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling means that 13 captains are owed double back wages for hours at Hanford in excess of 40 hours a week, including hours spent sleeping and eating.

They sued Hanford contractor Mission Support Alliance, which provides fire prevention and suppression services at the site near Richland, claiming they should be eligible for overtime pay.

Mission Support Alliance argued that federal overtime rules did not apply for a variety of reasons, including that pay for the captains exceeded $100,000 a year.

Under certain conditions, highly compensated employees are exempt from federal overtime pay requirements.

But not in this case, ruled U.S. Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson.

Mission Support Alliance also argued that captains were exempt from overtime pay because their primary duty is the non-manual work of commanding a Hanford nuclear reservation fire station.

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Department of Energy contractor Mission Support Alliance is in charge of fire prevention and suppression at the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland, Wash. Courtesy Department of Energy

Each station has a fire captain assigned for every shift. They supervise day-to-day activities of firefighters, prepare incident reports after emergencies and perform other management-related tasks.

But Malouf Peterson concluded that fighting fires remained their primary duty and they must be prepared to drop any administrative task at the station house in response to an emergency call.

Fire captains not paid time and a half

She also pointed out that the captains do not have final authority on such key decisions as disciplining employees, writing employee performance evaluations and authorizing spending for equipment and supplies.

A battalion chief is always on duty and the captains follow the battalion chief’s orders.

The judge ruled that captains were owed overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week going back two years. They had been paid regular wages for that time rather than time and a half.

They worked multiple-day shifts, with alternating weeks of 48- or 72-hour schedules.

Back pay will be doubled, as required by federal law, because Mission Support Alliance could not make a case that it had reasonable grounds for believing it did not have to pay overtime, according to the judge’s ruling.

Mission Support Alliance will not be allowed to subtract any hours that captains spent eating or sleeping from overtime pay because no such agreement had been previously worked out, the judge said.

No estimate of the back overtime pay owed has been released.

Mission Support Alliance is owned by Leidos and Centerra Group.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.
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