County settles lawsuit with emergency operators
DADE CITY - Pasco County has settled a lawsuit with Emergency 911 operators who accused the county of ignoring its own policies by refusing to pay higher wages to dispatchers and managers who work the graveyard shift. The county's policy says if an employee works a majority of his shift after 5 p.m., he is entitled to a 5 percent salary bump. The plaintiffs work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Personnel Director Barbara De Simone said she stopped paying the "shift differential" bonus in 2000 when the county switched the 911 staff from 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts. The 2-day-on 2-day-off schedule allowed all of the workers to accumulate more overtime pay. "They work 84 hours and get paid for 88 hours," De Simone said. "That comes out to about 10 percent increase in salary." She said the employees with more seniority get the day shift, and new hires were relegated to the night shift.But attorney Mark Fox, who represents 10 current and former night-shift workers, said his clients are entitled to the higher pay because "all of their hours fall after 5 p.m." He said De Simone's interpretation of the policy made no distinction between the workers on the day-shift and the night-shift because the built-in overtime affects them equally. "Shift differential is a compensation for and an inducement for people to work all night long," he said. "These are the people who are answering your calls and protecting your people." Several commissioners agreed. "I have to say, I'm inclined to go with the employees, and I feel that's what our rule is," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. Assistant County Attorney Anthony Salzano said the county is still calculating the amount of back wages to be paid to the employees dating back to 2008. Fox said the county agreed to pay all the night-shift workers the shift differential going forward and to make a contribution toward his legal fees. "The employees are very pleased with the outcome," he said. "We think it's fair and reasonable. It's what we wanted all along."
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