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Battalion chiefs sue over pay and benefits

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Hawaii County is being sued by 14 current and former battalion chiefs who argue their pay and benefits packages are not keeping pace with counterparts and subordinates covered by a collective-bargain­ing agreement.

The lawsuit maintains that the highest-paid captains earn more money than some battalion chiefs, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday. Plaintiffs also allege the county has violated a statute requiring compensation to be at least equal to that provided to union-covered counterparts and subordinates.

Captain is the highest rank covered under the contract between the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association and the county. Battalion chiefs, a managerial position excluded from collective bargaining, are one rank above captain.

The lawsuit filed in Hilo Circuit Court on March 31 seeks back pay for lost compensation. Plaintiffs also seek adjustment of retirement benefits from the battalion chief promotion dates, as well as unspecified damages.

The county has been served with the lawsuit, according to Deputy Corporation Counsel Steve Strauss.

"Based on our records from Human Resources, the Fire Department and the Finance Department, we don’t believe there is any evidence that shows captains receive any particular pay or benefits over and above the compensation that’s made available to the battalion chiefs," Strauss said.

Longevity and seniority are a separate issue, according to Strauss.

"It is conceivable that a subordinate fire captain with lengthy years of service may make more in base salary than does a battalion chief with relatively few years of service," Strauss said.

He added that doesn’t mean the county is violating the compensation law.

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