WASHINGTON — With a stroke of the pen on Saturday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has ended the District’s 14-year labor dispute with its firefighters union, agreeing to terms that will pay firefighters between $45 million and $49 million in back pay for unpaid overtime.
“I believe firmly, as a manager of over 30,000 people, that when you work you should get paid what you’re owed,” Bowser said, as she signed the agreement. She was joined by Ed Smith, a fire captain and president of the District of Columbia Firefighters Association, Local 36.
The agreement lays out the terms for paying the firefighters overtime pay, ending a dispute that reaches back to 2001. The courts have consistently ruled that the city owes the firefighters the money.
“She’s been working with us behind the scenes to work out the arrangements to finally make the payment,” Smith said.
In a dramatic show of camaraderie with firefighters, Bowser donned firefighting gear — including helmet, oxygen mask and boots. Along with other firefighters and with the union president at her side, Bowser entered a burning training building at the D.C. Fire and EMS Training Academy in Southwest.
“It’s hot and dark and the equipment is heavy … . It gives me a good appreciation for what the men and women do every single day,” Bowser told reporters as she stepped out of the smoking hulk.
At least 2,700 D.C. firefighters or their beneficiaries are expected to receive single paychecks in December for the back pay. The amount of individual checks will vary, but most of the checks are expected to be in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. Union officials say some firefighters could receive six-figure checks.