Court: Pittsburgh does not have to pay on-duty police same as off-duty officers

The city of Pittsburgh does not have to pay its on-duty police officers the same rate as off-duty officers when both work at the same big events, such as Steelers and Penguins games, the Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday.
In a 13-page decision, the court sided with Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville, who last year overturned an arbitrator’s decision in favor of the union.
Colville and Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt said that if the union wants higher wages for its officers, it can negotiate for them under the collective bargaining agreement.

The union’s most recent collective bargaining agreement with the city expired Dec. 31. The two sides are negotiating a deal.

Howard McQuillan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, and Bryan Campbell, a lawyer for the union, said they have yet to read the ruling.

“We have to take a look at it and see what the court said” before deciding whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court, McQuillan said.

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said: “We’re happy Commonwealth Court agreed to what we’ve been arguing for months — that this is a contract matter and not something that should be left to an arbitrator.”

The case stemmed from several grievances filed by Officers David Lincoln and Robert Swartzwelder in 2013.

The officers, who were working on-duty traffic details outside Consol Energy Center in Uptown, argued that it was unfair that they were being paid $20 less an hour than off-duty officers doing the same job 60 feet away.

Secondary employment pays $41.12 an hour, regardless of an officer’s rank or seniority.

An arbitrator ruled in favor of the officers and directed the city to pay on-duty police officers working large events the same rate as off-duty officers working a detail shift, concluding: “It does not appear justifiable for these on-duty officers doing the same work at the same event as the secondary officers yet receiving a lesser rate of pay.”

The city appealed, contending the arbitrator did not have jurisdiction to make the decision. The appeal said city officials have a right to assign on-duty officers anywhere they want, including at special events where off-duty officers already are stationed.

Colville reversed the arbitrator’s decision, and Leavitt agreed, ruling that on-duty pay is subject to collective bargaining negotiations, and that “the arbitrator’s award directed the City to do something that had not been bargained with the Union.”