Arbitrator sides with union in Pittsburgh police pay dispute with city

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An arbitrator ruled this week that on-duty Pittsburgh police officers who are sent to work at special events -- such as Steelers, Pirates and Penguins games -- must be paid at the same higher rate as off-duty officers hired by the venues.

The Sept. 30 decision, outlined in a letter obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, came after two officers filed more than a half-dozen grievances stating they felt the city violated the collective bargaining agreement when it sent on-duty officers to work alongside their off-duty counterparts, who are paid at a time-and-a-half rate billed to the companies hosting the events.

It's unclear how often the police bureau sends on-duty officers to work at such events, and police union officials have said in the past they worry the practice drains already strapped neighborhood stations of the manpower they need to properly respond to calls.

Also unclear is who would foot the bill, given the higher pay rate.

The city could choose to appeal the arbitrator's decision in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Contacted Wednesday afternoon through her spokeswoman, acting police Chief Regina McDonald declined to comment "until she has had the opportunity to review the arbitration award and determine as to how it can be implemented."

City solicitor Daniel Regan said his office is reviewing the decision handed down by labor arbitrator Philip W. Parkinson and is attempting to determine how to proceed. "Obviously, we had a position that was different than the award," he said.

Representatives from the police union and the city met for an arbitration hearing Sept. 4 after Zone 2 Officers Robert Swartzwelder and David Lincoln filed grievances.

As part of his ruling, Mr. Parkinson, who declined comment, described one grievance from Officer Swartzwelder that he described as typical of the others.

Officer Swartzwelder wrote that he was on duty Feb. 17 when he was assigned to work from noon to 2 p.m. directing traffic at Consol Energy Center, where a monster truck event was taking place. About 60 feet away from him, off-duty Lt. Thomas Atkins was also directing traffic and receiving a higher rate of pay.

"The city sends the on-duty officers to perform the same work but they are prohibited from making the secondary employee rate of pay," Mr. Parkinson wrote. "The off-duty officers are making over $13 more per hour than the on-duty officers."

The police union argued that officers cannot be forced to work secondary employment at such venues, yet the city has agreed to provide some on-duty officers to work near sporting events at the beginning and end of some games.

Bryan Campbell, the attorney representing the police union, said he presented an exhibit that showed that the police chief's office in August designated that two on-duty officers from each zone would be sent to work the hour-and-a-half leading up to each home Steelers game and four on-duty officers from each zone would be sent to work at the end of the game.

The union did not contest the bureau's right to send the officers there, only to pay them at a different rate than their off-duty counterparts.

"Although the City agrees that the issue is the rate of pay, they claim that there is nothing wrong with officers working together even though there may be a difference in their rate of pay," Mr. Parkinson wrote. "They note that the parties' Working Agreement has different rates of pay for people doing essentially the same work."

Mr. Parkinson issued his award in favor of the union, saying on-duty officers should receive the higher rate of pay when working at special events effective Sept. 30.

neigh_city

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.


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