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SEOUL — An arbitration hearing has been set for March in response to requests from nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers who want hundreds of hours in back pay as compensation for complying with a military curfew in South Korea, one of the workers and U.S. Forces Korea confirmed Tuesday.

The hearing, set for March 8, will decide whether these members of Local 1363 of the National Federation of Federal Employees filed their original complaint in a “timely manner,” both sides said.

If the union loses that argument, then it will end the quest to receive an average of 800 hours in back pay for “standby duty” during USFK’s former curfew policy. If the union wins in March, another arbitration hearing will be set to decide the pay issue.

Whatever the outcome of this complaint, the union is considering launching a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. military for requiring 3,000 civilian workers here to comply with a nightly curfew for more than five months, said Jeffrey Meadows, the union local’s president.

“It opens the door for all employees,” Meadows said.

In September 2004, USFK commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte began requiring USFK servicemembers, civilian workers and contractors to keep to a 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew. It later was amended to midnight to 5 a.m. The mandatory compliance requirement for civilians and contractors was lifted March 1; a curfew still applies to servicemembers.

The union moved that month to recover back pay on grounds the curfew confined the employees to their quarters and put them in standby status.

In April, the U.S. military denied the claim, saying the union had failed to show in detail how the nine employees were “restricted to living quarters, had activities substantially limited and were required to remain in a state of readiness.” It also held that the claim was not filed within the proper time limit.

It’s the issue of that time limit that will be discussed in March, Meadows said.

Until then, the union has retained a separate law firm in the States to look into its chances with a lawsuit, he said. It’s likely nothing would be filed in federal court until after the March hearing.

USFK officials on Tuesday confirmed the date of the hearing but had no comment on the potential lawsuit. The hearing will be closed to the public at the request of both sides, according to a USFK spokesman.

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