Lawsuit seeks Sunday pay differential for part-timers

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the labor union that represents employees at the National Weather Service could determine whether all part-time federal employees are entitled to a 25 percent bonus for working on Sunday.

The lawsuit, brought by the National Weather Service Employees Organization, seeks to clarify that four part-time weather forecasters who work on Sunday are entitled to the same 25 percent differential that full-time federal employees receive for Sunday work.

The union filed the suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on behalf of Theodore Fathauer and Laurie Nisbet, lead forecasters in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Robin Fox and Richard Thoman, general forecasters in Spokane, Wash. The Fairbanks and Spokane offices, like each of the weather service's 122 forecast facilities, must be staffed around the clock to issue forecasts and warnings of severe weather.

Since switching to a part-time schedule in 2004, Fathauer has worked about 15 Sundays each year, while Thoman has worked about 22. Fox and Nisbet became part-time forecasters in late 2006 and work Sundays on an occasional basis. The forecasters are seeking lost premium pay for the Sundays they have worked since going to a part-time schedule.

The employees regularly received Sunday premium pay when they were full-time employees, but the National Weather Service stopped the Sunday differential pay when they went to part-time work, in keeping with an Office of Personnel Management regulation that limits the payment of Sunday differentials to full-time employees, said Richard Hirn, general counsel for the union.

Congress approved legislation in 1966 that entitles federal employees on the General Schedule pay system to a 25 percent differential when they are scheduled to work on Sunday. But the law does not make a distinction on eligibility between full-time and part-time employees, Hirn said.

He added that a 1978 law made it clear that Congress wanted to promote opportunities for federal employees to pursue job-sharing or other part-time opportunities. "I am sure Congress did not intend that people engaging in job-sharing should be paid less than people on a full-time schedule," he said. The lawsuit contends that OPM is discriminating against part-time workers by denying them the same premiums granted by law to all federal employees. "I'm optimistic that OPM is going to reconsider their regulations," Hirn said.

OPM declined to comment.

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