The Torrance City Council has decided to hire six new firefighters rather than 12 as had been recommended by the city staff to offset a new federal regulation that requires the city to pay overtime to emergency personnel.
The U.S. Supreme Court this year decided that local governments must abide by the Fair Labor Standards Act. In Torrance, the ruling has had its biggest effect on firefighters, said Liz Rojas, assistant to the city manager. If the city had not hired additional firefighters, each member of the 141-person force could have earned more than $7,000 a year in overtime pay.
But under the staff recommendation to hire 12 additional firefighters, current employees each would have lost about $1,200 a year in overtime compared to last year, according to Rick Bongard, a spokesman for the firefighters' union, which opposed the recommendation.
Rojas and Fire Chief Richard DeYoung argued unsuccessfully that despite the loss of money for current employees, 12 new firefighters would expand the work force to cover emergencies better and reduce the number of hours each would have to work during the year.
Bongard suggested that the city hire only six firefighters, which would allow current firefighters to make the same amount of money while working fewer hours per year. The City Council agreed unanimously.