GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Attorneys for the city of Gautier and its firefighters union went toe-to-toe Wednesday with arguments in circuit court over holiday pay.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Kathy King-Jackson heard the case in her Pascagoula courtroom from Gautier city attorney Josh Damos and John Clark, attorney for Local Firefighters Union 3290, because the two sides couldn't reach an agreement in mediation.
The final decision could be months in the making and it likely will have huge ripple effects throughout the state.
The question is if the city is violating state law by paying its firefighters for only eight hours of holiday pay like other city employees, even though firefighters work 24-hour shifts.
The union argues firefighters should be paid 24 hours of holiday pay, regardless whether they work or not, plus 24 hours of holiday pay at time and half the normal rate for those who do work.
City officials say there is no mandate supporting that in the state statute. It's a decision city manager Samantha Abell is eager to get.
"Every city in the state of Mississippi should be taking notice, because this is a ruling on the state statute," she said. "So it would have an effect on every government in the state of Mississippi. If the ruling is that every hour worked constitutes holiday pay, then obviously there's going to be a lot of councils who will be looking at their budget."
Timothy Fortney, president of the Local Firefighters Union 3290, said it's a pretty simple request.
"It's about fairness," he said. "The city is on record now in admission that they were in violation of the state statute. And we applaud them for that, but we still want what we feel that we deserve."
The initial contract between the union and the city in 2004 called for firefighters working on official holidays to be paid at 1 1/2 half times their normal rate.
In December 2013, the city agreed to pay firefighters the same eight hours holiday pay even if they didn't work, in addition to the time and a half paid to firefighters actually working on the holiday.
In addition to an immediate decision, the union also is seeking three years of back holiday pay, plus legal costs.