CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — An Army colonel has rejected a request from nine Army Corps of Engineers civilians for five months of “standby pay” for complying with a mandatory overnight curfew.

The letter from Army Corps of Engineers Far East District commander Col. Janice Dombi — dated March 11 and delivered to a union steward on March 15 — states the curfew didn’t require Defense Department workers in South Korea to maintain a state of readiness, a requirement to receive standby pay, according to Dombi.

In her response, Dombi refers to orders from U.S. Forces Korea commanders issued last year defining the curfew, which in September began to include not just servicemembers but civilian workers, contractors and their families. That mandatory compliance for civilians and private workers was lifted March 1; the curfew remains in effect for servicemembers.

“I found nothing in these orders to indicate that any employee was required to remain in a state of readiness to perform work during the designated curfew hours,” Dombi wrote in the two-page response. “This is one of the essential elements that must be present to support a claim of pay for standby pay.”

The president of Local 1363, National Federation of Federal Employees, disagreed. “She missed the point,” said Jeffrey Meadows, who filed the initial Feb. 28 request for an average of 800 hours back pay on behalf of each of the nine workers.

The commanders’ curfew orders “all stay to maintain in a state of readiness,” Meadows said Wednesday during a phone interview. “I don’t know what else that can mean but you have to stay in your home and be ready to go to work.”

On Sept. 24, USFK commander Gen. Leon LaPorte began requiring all USFK personnel and invited contractors to follow a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in response to a “specific threat” the State Department received against Americans in South Korea. That curfew was amended in October to begin at midnight. In more recent orders amending the curfew and in interviews, USFK officials have said the curfew was needed to ensure both force protection and force readiness.

USFK’s public affairs office on Wednesday offered no comment beyond Dombi’s letter.

The union’s request late last month was the first step in seeking tens of thousands of dollars in back pay for complying with the curfew policy. The union is relying on language from its current contract with USFK that calls for the government to pay its workers standby pay for any time spent restricted to living quarters and in a “state of readiness to perform work.”

Dombi’s letter refutes that. The curfew, she wrote, never placed “limitations on the employee’s activities so substantial that the employee cannot use the time effectively for his or her own purposes,” a requirement to authorize standby pay. Another requirement for standby pay, she wrote, is that a worker’s living quarters have been designated a “duty station,” something never required by the curfew.

“General statements regarding readiness do not equate to a requirement that a particular employee be in a state of readiness to perform his or her established work functions,” she wrote.

Meadows said he plans to draft a response to Dombi’s letter this week after consulting with his union’s headquarters in Washington.

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