Juneau police win labor grievance over overtime

Extra 15 minutes after new 8-hour shifts get higher compensation

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2006

Requiring police officers to work an extra 15 minutes a day will cost the Juneau Police Department thousands of dollars, a labor arbiter ruled last week.

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When then-Police Chief Richard Gummow moved patrol officers from 12-hour shifts in January 2005, it required them to work overlapping shifts of 814 hours five days a week without overtime compensation. Last week Michael Rappaport of Sherman Oaks, Calif., who heard the grievance, ruled in favor of the Juneau Public Safety Employees Association, which brought the action arguing they should be treated like other city employees.

"There is no indication, whatsoever, ... that (city) personnel rules do not apply to the police department," Rappaport wrote. He found the department "violated the collective bargaining agreement when it failed to pay sworn police officers ... overtime premium for work in excess of 40 hours a week." That premium multiplies regular wages by 112.

Juneau PSEA President Paul Comolli, a patrol officer who was among those objecting to the change to 12-hour shifts, said the grievance wasn't about a grab for money but a question about being treated fairly. He estimated that, to this point, the impact could average $4,500 per officer who has worked since January 2005, although some of the 32 officers have left the department in the last 18 months.

About two months ago another arbiter ruled sworn officers were entitled to the same benefit of higher wages for working evening and late-night shifts. Comolli estimated that ruling could cost the city $280,000 over the course of the three year labor agreement.

"We'll comply with the arbiter's ruling," Chief Greg Browning said Friday afternoon, adding he had only just received the 17-page document and had not read it.

City Attorney John Hartle said he had not had a chance to analyze the decision.

Browning said he did not know how it will affect the way he deploys officers. He said he believed the department was following the Fair Labor Standards Act.

At the 4114 hours per week that has been required of officers since the beginning of 2005, officers are working 165 hours over four weeks. In his ruling, Rappaport noted that under 12-hour shifts officers did not get overtime until working 171 hours during a 28-day period, which is allowable under the FLSA.

His summary of the arguments shows the union changed the threshold for overtime from 160 hours over 28 days when officers moved to 12-hour shifts through a negotiated letter of agreement in October 1994. "The union argued that if any past practice existed, it changed with the elimination of the 12-hour shift," he wrote.

The department argued city policy gives it the right to designate work shifts, the arbiter noted. Changing shifts from 12 to 814 hours per week did not change the overtime threshold of 171 hours, management held.

"When the department decided to end the 12-hour shift and go to an 814-hour shift, whatever past practice might have existed was no longer controlling," Rappaport wrote, explaining his ruling. "It appears that the past practice was predicated on the 12-hour shift, and it was on the basis of the 12-hour shift that the prior practice was accepted by the union."

Comolli said the net effect of moving from shifts of 12 regular hours to 814 regular hours was a loss in regular hours that made a difference of about 2 percent in their pay, wiping out the union's 1 percent pay increase.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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