Suffolk firefighters’ morale falters over pay problems

Suffolk, Va. (WAVY) — Firefighters in Suffolk say morale is suffering while they deal with two issues that affect what they take home in their paychecks.

“You start seeing people that want to leave, it’s like a kick in the teeth,” said Travis Peirce, head of the firefighters union.

On Monday, 10 On Your Side told you Suffolk Fire Chief Cedric Scott was meeting with all 283 of his firefighters and explaining why their paychecks hadn’t always been calculated correctly. While firefighters received catch up pay this month for the accounting discrepancies, the compensation only makes up for what was lost over the last three years – and no one knows how far back the problem began.

“Then he finds out that the city’s been shorting his overtime pay for years … we don’t know how many years,” Peirce said. “Thousands of dollars have been taken out of his family’s income, and he has a choice — should I stay here or do I need to go somewhere else?”

Peirce said another development is causing firefighters frustration — a new policy caps the holiday pay rate at the first eight hours of a given day. And when firefighters commonly work 24-hour shifts that begin at 8 a.m., on holidays they will now only get paid time and a half for the first eight hours of that shift.

VIDEO: WAVY’s Chris Horne reports on new holiday pay policy

“It seems like we’re trying to resolve one issue, but as we walk out the door, we’re getting another one taken away from us,” Peirce said.

The problem is agitated further when you factor in that there have been no cost of living raises for Suffolk firefighters in the last seven years, and Peirce says the culmination has rookies and veterans alike beginning to consider other career options.

“One guy’s been here 15 years, captain of the fire department, he’s thinking about going back to work for the mill,” he said. “I got another guy who’s been here two years. He wants to go sell insurance or start his own business.”

Peirce said Suffolk has had other “pay fiascoes,” some with people getting paid twice, and in other cases people getting overpaid, only to have the money deducted from a future check. He says some of the mistakes could be averted if their pay statements were better itemized.

The firefighters tell they will continue to pursue both issues and see if they can get pay stubs that are more detailed when it comes to the number of hours they work at regular pay, overtime, and holiday pay. They also say they have appreciated the chance to ask questions of management at this week’s informational meetings.

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