Judges, lawyers debate pay rates for police working large events in Pittsburgh
Five Commonwealth Court judges quizzed attorneys at a hearing Wednesday about equitable pay for Pittsburgh police officers who provide security and traffic control services at large special events.
Bryan Campbell, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, told the judges in a City-County Building courtroom that an arbitrator was within his authority to order the city to pay on-duty police officers the same time-and-a-half rate as off-duty officers when both work special events, such as Steelers games.
Campbell referenced a section of the police contract that states police officers engaged in secondary employment would receive the pay determined by an agreement between the city and outside employer.
“Our argument is these are police officers, when they’re over there, they’re engaged in secondary employment,” Campbell said afterward. “If you’re going to force us to work secondary employment, pay us that rate of pay.”
President Judge Dan Pellegrini questioned whether officers who respond to a fight at a bar where off-duty officers are working would be paid the higher rate. He said allowing secondary employment pay to drive on-duty pay rates is “like the tail wagging the dog.”
Judge P. Kevin Brobson said it seems both sets of officers are performing law enforcement functions. He questioned whether police leaders would let budgetary concerns influence decisions about sending officers to assist with traffic control.
“That seems to me to be interfering with the managerial prerogative of the police department,” Brobson said.
Two officers filed several grievances in 2013 regarding the wage disparity between on-duty and off-duty officers doing the same work at special events. Arbitrator Philip W. Parkinson sided with the union Sept. 30, 2013, saying “it would appear to be inequitable” for an on-duty officer to be paid less for helping off-duty officers at a large event.
The city appealed that ruling, and Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville in March reversed it, writing that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by basing his ruling on what “the arbitrator believes the collective bargaining agreement should require on-duty officers to be paid,” rather than what the contract states.
City attorney Wendy Kobee echoed that, telling judges the arbitration award attempted to “rewrite the contract” rather than interpret it.
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.