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N.O. firefighters ask judge to hold city in contempt

27th April 2015   ·   0 Comments

New Orleans firefighters plan to ask a Civil Court judge to hold Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council in contempt for failing to fulfill City Hall’s agreement to pay nearly $75 million in back wages owed to hundreds of members of the New Orleans Fire Department, reported last week.

Louisiana law mandates that those held in contempt spend time in jail or pay fines for each day that they refuse to comply with court orders.

In a hearing Tuesday, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese warned local elected officials that they are not above the law. “Tell our city fathers and mothers that we need to come to a resolution on this,” Reese told City Attorney Sharonda Williams, according to court records. “I’m going to look at this issue very closely. I’m going to make a ruling. I will not shirk my responsibility. I will have no reticence in doing whatever I think is appropriate.”

The hearing comes after a lull in the ongoing dispute between local firefighters and the City of New Orleans over the NOFD’s pension fund.

Brad Howard, a spokesman for the Landrieu administration, blamed the problems with the NOFD pension fund “Largely” on union leadership, saying “They continue to evade taking any responsibility in finding a level-headed and reasonable solution to this challenge.

“Rather than working with all parties, they are now pursuing a scorched-earth strategy that threatens the city’s ability to deliver essential services residents depend on, such as public safety, street repairs and parks and recreation.”

While firefighters ousted those in leadership positions responsible for making poor decisions regarding the pension fund in 2013, they contend that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made a bad situation worse by halting the City of New Orleans’ mandated contributions to the pension fund.

The city is required under state law to give firefighters who have been on the job three to 23 years an annual two percent raise. From 1990 to 2006, it failed to do so, failing to pay the firefighters a cumulative sum of $67 million over the 16-year period.

Last June the City of New Orleans agreed to pay the $67 million in addition to $7 million for paid vacation days the city was required to offer but did not.

While the Landrieu administration doesn’t deny that it owes the firefighters $75 million — minus the $200,000 it already paid for on-duty injury pay — it insists that it doesn’t have to pay the lump sum right now.

Firefighters contend that Judge Reese has already issued a “mandatory injunction” order for the city to pay the firefighters what is owed.

NOFD union attorney Louis Robein told that he planned to file a motion to hold the City of New Orleans in contempt last week, after which Judge Reese will set a date to hear arguments as to why city officials should or should not be fined or thrown in jail.

This article originally published in the April 27, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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