The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, today upheld a 2006 ruling of the state Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) that the City of Boston unlawfully reduced the overtime compensation of Boston Patrol Officers without first bargaining with their union, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, Inc. (BPPA). The SJC and CERB ordered the City, which made the unlawful change in July 2002, to “make whole” the patrol officers represented by the BPPA – which likely will cost the City several hundred thousand dollars.
Today’s SJC decision caps lengthy litigation regarding the City’s repeated violation of state and federal laws concerning overtime pay to Boston police officers. In 2000, more than 800 Boston patrol officers, represented by Sandulli Grace Attorneys Bryan Decker and John Becker, sued the City in federal court for the City’s outright refusal to pay overtime as required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The federal court agreed, and the City ultimately paid officers almost $700,000 plus attorney’s fees. In July 2002, while the federal litigation was ongoing, the City unilaterally adopted the FLSA’s “partial public safety exemption,” which lowers federal overtime payments to police officers and firefighters. While the City’s unilateral adoption of this partial overtime exemption was permitted by the FLSA, it was not by state law. Under state law, Chapter 150E of Massachusetts General Laws, a municipal employer must bargain with a union before changing the wages of employees represented by a union. The BPPA immediately demanded to bargain about this change. The City refused, even though the parties were negotiating a new contract, and instead implemented the change. On behalf of the BPPA, Sandulli Grace Attorneys Bryan Decker and Patrick Bryant filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state labor relations agency. CERB ruled in the BPPA’s favor, and the City appealed.
The SJC upheld the CERB decision on all points, finding that:
- “the city was obligated under G.L. c. 150E to bargain in good faith with the union regarding” the July 2002 decision to adopt the partial public safety exemption;
- that the City further violated the law by refusing to provide the BPPA with information it requested;
- and that the proper remedy was for the city to “[m]ake whole affected employees for the economic losses they may have suffered as a result of the [c]ity’s decision to adopt” the partial public safety exemption.
With regards to the remedy, a conservative estimate is that the City reduced overtime pay to officers by at least $100,000 per year by making the unlawful change. Damages will run back to July 2002, and the BPPA’s members are entitled to interest.
BPPA President Thomas Nee welcomed the Court’s decision. “We’re extremely gratified that the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with our position in this case. The FLSA is designed to protect the rights of people who work more than 40 hours per week and ensure that they are properly compensated. The Court affirmed that this applies to police officers as well.”
Sandulli Grace Attorney Bryan Decker, who argued the case to the SJC, said, “The City continuously, and improperly, claimed that it couldn’t comply simultaneously with the FLSA and its obligations under state law. The SJC rejected this argument as bogus, and upheld that workers are entitled to the protections of the FLSA and their Union. Given the state of our economy, this decision reminds employers that a desire to save money is not a defense to violating legal obligations. Hopefully, municipalities will learn that the only way through these challenging times is to treat unions and employees as partners rather than problems.”
READ the SJC decision at: