November 21, 2011
By Bendix Anderson
Millions of dollars could be at stake as thousands of workers sue the City for unpaid overtime. “We are going to get that money,” promised James Huntley, President of CWA Local 1182, which represents 2,500 traffic and sanitation enforcement agents.
But the City refuses to give any ground as the overtime case moves through arbitration. Perhaps that’s because even once the current lawsuit is resolved, thousands of other non-uniformed police officers may also claim that they were underpaid.
So far, the case includes the members of Local 1182 and another 450 members of Local 983, which represents traffic enforcement agents who have reached level 3 and level 4. “My members sued also,” said Mark Rosenthal, President of Local 983.
The issue in the case is overtime. Like many workers, most City employees earn one-and-a-half times their regular pay when they work overtime hours. But what is “regular pay?” Many TEAs and SEAs work late at night or early in the morning. For those hours they earn an extra 10 percent. Their overtime pay is supposed to be based on a weighted average of an individual’s daytime rate and their nighttime rate including the extra 10 percent, according to the contract they signed with the City.
The City failed to do include that extra 10 percent in its calculations. The difference can be less than a dollar per hour of overtime. But sanitation and traffic enforcement agents work a lot of overtime and the problem stretches over several years. The total could add up to millions in lost wages.
The case could also have wide implications: There could be thousands more police employees who worked overtime but weren’t fully paid for it, said Stuart Lichten, partner with the law firm of Lichten & Bright, which represents the unions in the suit. The Police Dept. has a total of 45,000 employees. Of those, 36,000 are police officers whose unions have been extremely aggressive in examining overtime moneys — they are unlikely to have been underpaid, said Lichten. But that leaves 9,204 non-uniformed employees of the Police Dept. If all of these workers were underpaid, the size of the lawsuit against the City would more than triple.
Union lawyers have asked to see the payment records of these employees, but so far the Police Dept. has refused. The City has also refused to concede even the basic facts of the case in its arbitration with the unions, which began Sept. 22. The City refuses to even admit that it made a mistake until it is proven in court, despite the clear difference in the way the City paid overtime in 2010 compared to 2011. The City also tried to get the case dismissed based on timeliness.
“The stand of the City has been total opposition… It may take years,” said Lichten. “But we are going to get that money.”