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Prof'l Firefighters Ass'n, Local 385 v. City of Omaha

Supreme Court of Nebraska

March 6, 2015

PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION OF OMAHA, LOCAL 385, AFL-CIO CLC, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF OMAHA, NEBRASKA, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, APPELLEE

Page 138

Appeals from the District Court for Douglas County: PETER C. BATAILLON, Judge.

John E. Corrigan, of Dowd, Howard & Corrigan, L.L.C., for appellants.

Bernard J. in den Bosch, Deputy Omaha City Attorney, for appellee.

HEAVICAN, C.J., CONNNNOLLY, STEPHAN, MCCORMACK, MILLER-LERMAN, AND CASSEL, JJ. Wright, J., participating on briefs.

OPINION

Page 139

[290 Neb. 301] Stephan, J.

The Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act (the Act)[1] defines " [w]ages" as " compensation for labor or services rendered by an employee, including fringe benefits, when previously agreed to and conditions stipulated have been met by the employee." [2] In these consolidated cases, firefighters employed by the City of Omaha (the City) and represented by a union filed suit under the Act for wages they claimed were due under an order entered by Nebraska's Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR). The principal issue in these appeals is whether the claimed wages were " agreed to" as of the date of the CIR order or, rather, as of the later date when the parties' conflicting interpretations of that order were resolved by the district court. We conclude the wages were agreed to on the date of the final CIR order and reverse, and remand with directions.

I. BACKGROUND

Appellants are (1) the Professional Firefighters Association of Omaha, Local 385, AFL-CIO CLC, the recognized exclusive [290 Neb. 302] collective bargaining representative for a unit of Omaha fire department employees; (2) Steve LeClair, the president of the association; and (3) individual employees covered by the bargaining unit represented by Local 385. They will be collectively referred to herein as " the firefighters."

On or about December 29, 2007, a collective bargaining agreement between the firefighters and the City expired. The parties were unable to reach a new agreement and therefore litigated a wage case before the CIR. The CIR issued its findings and order on December 23, 2008, and then, after the parties sought clarification, issued a final order in the case on February 18, 2009. This order set the minimum and maximum pay rate for the period January 1 through December 31, 2008. Neither party appealed from the CIR orders.

The CIR's final order gave the City 90 days to pay in one lump sum all adjustments and compensation resulting from the order. On May 6, 2009, the firefighters notified the City that they disagreed with how the City was implementing the CIR orders in various respects, including that the City was not complying with Omaha Mun. Code, ch. 23, art. III, div. 3, § 23-148 (2001). That section provides:

When a uniformed member of the fire or police department is paid at a rate which exceeds that at which such member's senior in rank, grade or class is being paid, such senior officer or officers shall be increased to the next higher step within the assigned pay range irrespective of the date of last increase. The effective date of such increase shall become the anniversary date for pay purposes each year thereafter until promoted or demoted. This provision shall not apply when a member has been reduced in pay, grade or class for disciplinary reasons or when he has not been granted a pay increase due to unsatisfactory performance; neither shall it apply when such condition is the result of [the] use of the two-step salary increase provision.

After the CIR orders, the City paid certain firefighters who were more senior in rank, grade, or class less money than lower ...


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