Court Grants Hawai’i Battalion Chiefs Raise

Written on 09/02/2022
Will Aitchison

Section § 89C-3(b)(2) of Hawai’i Revised Statutes requires government employers to adjust the benefits and pay of civil service employees excluded from collective bargaining to ensure that the benefits and pay of the excluded employ­ees are at least equal to the compensation and benefit packages of their subordinates covered by collective bargaining.

A group of battalion chiefs working for the County of Hawai’i sued, con­tending that the County violated the Statute by excluding “hazmat and rescue” differentials paid to certain fire captains and not considering pay inversions due to years of service in the evaluation of the respective compensation and benefit packages of the battalion chiefs and fire captains. The Hawai’i Court of Appeals agreed with the battalion chiefs.

The Court found that “regardless of how the hazardous assignment differen­tial is characterized under the collective bargaining agreement covering captains, they are clearly part of the fire captains’ compensation and benefit packages for purposes of the Statute. The hazardous assignment differential is an amount 8.126% of the employee’s regular salary that is paid to certain qualifying employees and is clearly a type of compensation. From a plain reading of the Statute, there are no exceptions for specialty assignments or hazardous assignment differentials.

“The Statute was also violated be­cause the County did not include in its calculations the higher hourly rates of pay that some subordinate fire captains received due to those captains having more years of service than some battalion chiefs. The battalion chiefs assert that there is no ‘years of service’ exception to the requirements of the Statute. The issue presented here is when interpreting the parity requirement of the Statute, whether increased pay for subordinate employees’ years of service must be considered as part of the subordinates’ compensation and benefit package. We conclude that it must.

“We have closely examined the merit principle policies under the law, and the merit principle policy that is most applicable to the circumstances of this case states: ‘incentives for competent employees within the service, whether financial or promotional opportunities and other performance-based group and individual awards that encourage continuous improvement to achieve superior performance.’ Thus, it would be contrary to merit principle policies for a fire captain who is promoted to battalion chief to be paid less than a fire captain with more years of service. Such a practice would be a financial disincentive for qualified fire personnel to seek to be promoted to battalion chief.”

The Court remanded the case to the State’s Merit Appeals Board to im­plement the Court’s decision.

Arbles v. County of Hawai’i, 2022 WL 2351758 (Hawai’i App. 2022).

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