State Rules Boston Police Department Unlawfully Underpaid Police Officers For Overtime
Overtime Caused by Understaffing Likely to Lead To Substantial Sum
The Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission (LRC) has ordered the City of Boston to pay additional wages to potentially hundreds of police officers based on the City’s unlawful failure to bargain with the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA).
In 2001, more than 800 Boston patrol officers, with the aid of Sandulli Grace, PC, sued the City based on the City’s unlawful refusal to calculate overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). That case resulted in a 2004 judgment from a federal judge that the City had willfully violated the FLSA, followed by an award of almost $700,000 to the officers, in addition to attorneys fees and costs.
In July 2002, the City tried to reduce overtime payments to officers by implementing a partial exemption to the FLSA’s overtime provisions that allows a municipality to spread overtime accrual over a period of up to 28 days (the law requires a 7-day overtime period for all other situations). When the City refused to bargain with the BPPA as required by law, the BPPA (assisted by Sandulli Grace) filed an unfair labor practice charge with the LRC. This Summer, the LRC issued its decision in the case, finding that the City violated state law by not bargaining with the BPPA, and ordered the City to make all patrol officers whole for its unlawful actions.
“It’s unfortunate that the City’s failure to properly staff the department has created a situation where officers are required to work overtime. To add insult to injury, however, the City unlawfully tried to underpay officers for the very hours it was forcing them to work. We’re happy that the LRC has reaffirmed the BPPA’s right to bargain before the City cuts the wages of Boston Police Officers,” said BPPA President Thomas Nee.
The LRC rejected the City’s claim that it could not follow the FLSA and also meet its duty to bargain with the BPPA. Because this issue dramatically affects overtime earnings, the LRC further agreed with the BPPA that the City could not change such an important or mandatory subject without first bargaining.
To remedy the illegal reduction in overtime earnings, the LRC ordered the City to pay all officers the difference between the FLSA overtime they were paid using a 28-day pay period from July 2002 onward and the overtime they should have been paid using the seven-day pay period previously in effect. While the BPPA has not yet calculated damages, they may be substantial.
“The City actually defended this case by claiming that it couldn’t meet its state law obligation to bargain with the BPPA and also follow federal law. That’s like saying that you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. We’re relieved that the LRC rejected this preposterous argument,” said Bryan Decker, a partner of Sandulli Grace which is counsel to the BPPA.
The City has appealed the Union’s victory, which remains pending at the trial court level.