What Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner calls confusing, conflicting federal labor rules has required his office to pay $223,869 in back pay to four deputies who have worked 24-hour shifts for the sheriff’s rescue squad.
The court case and negotiation that led to the award of back pay also have revealed something else that is confusing, Gardner said on Tuesday. That is, his office can save more than an estimated $100,000 a year by converting the rescue squad’s 24-hour shifts to 25-hour ones.
He said he may consider a move to 25-hour shifts. But as likely, he said, is that the rescue squad will continue on 16-hour shifts, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. without overnight coverage, which has been the schedule since March due to a staff shortage.
The department employs three deputies who are trained paramedics to staff its rescue squad at any one time, each of whom works one day on, two days off.
In an arrangement that began back in the 1980s, the rescue deputies had been paid regular time from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but were only paid from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. in the final eight hours of the shift if they were called out for service. They had not been paid the final eight hours of the shift if they were not called out.
Gardner said one of the sheriff’s deputies questioned the arrangement, and proved to be correct.
“We made a mistake. … The rule was confusing,” the sheriff said.
The key discovery was that federal labor law treats firefighters who work 24-hour shifts differently than law enforcement officers who do.
Under the law, the agency should have paid the 24-hour deputies 16 hours of regular time and eight hours of overtime.
Typically, the Sheriff’s Office’s rescue deputies answered one or two calls a night in the final eights hours of the shift, with each call being paid at least a two-hour overtime minimum, Gardner said.
Under the confusing quirk in federal labor law for a 25-hour shift, the Sheriff’s Office would need to pay a rescue deputy regular time for 16 hours and nothing for the final nine hours of the shift unless the deputy is called out for service. Then the deputy would be paid at least a two-hour overtime minimum per call.
Gardner said the statute of limitations for the back-pay question is two years, and so the department went back two years and calculated what each rescue deputy should have been paid under the 24-hour shift rule for law enforcement officers.
Ben Brink has received $83,000 in back pay; Brad Campbell, $74,000; Nick Heintz, $38,000; and Kellie Hughes, $28,869.
Heintz is no longer with the department.