Freedom New Mexico
Taxpayers, reform advocates and those concerned with responsible government budgeting and reining in the power of public employee unions claimed a small victory this month when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lawsuit against the city of San Diego by its police officers, seeking back pay and overtime for tasks including putting on their uniforms before coming to work. The nation’s highest court sent a message to police unions: Get dressed on your own time, like the rest of us.
The court’s Jan. 9 decision upheld lower-court rulings against San Diego police officers seeking pay for “donning and doffing” their uniforms, answering emails and performing other random tasks before they were officially on the clock. The lawsuit was originally filed by the police officers union in 2005 on behalf of about 1,500 current and retired officers; it sought millions of dollars from the city.
In 2009 a jury ruled against the officers, and a federal judge threw out what was left of the lawsuit. Officers appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also sided against the officers.
It is not uncommon for public employee unions, especially police unions, to negotiate ludicrous categories of special pay on top of already-generous base salaries and benefits. We have written about various forms of special pay such as bonuses paid to Costa Mesa, Calif., police to wear their uniforms and additional pay to Newport Beach, Calif., motorcycle officers to wash their bikes.
Orange County, Calif., is facing a similar lawsuit filed in 2005 by sheriff’s deputies, seeking payment of donning and doffing uniforms and other supposed off-the-clock overtime, according to county counsel. At the trial level, the county prevailed but the case has been appealed by deputies to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in the San Diego case sided with the city. A decision from the appellate court is pending.
While the failure by the San Diego police union to squeeze more money out of that city is a welcome victory, the six-plus-year legal battle cost San Diego taxpayers $6 million. The high court’s decision was a good one but the real reform needs to come at the negotiating table and by curbing the influence and power of public-sector unions.