Recent Developments In Public Safety Labor Relations

Philadelphia Mayor Seeks Huge Pension Reductions For Non-Union Workers

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 29

PHILADELPHIA – As part of its push to reduce the city's long-term pension costs, the Nutter administration will ask City Council on Thursday to take up legislation revamping retirement benefits for a class of about 5,000 municipal workers not represented by unions.

The proposed changes - which include the creation of a voluntary 401(k)-type plan and higher employee contribution rates for those who opt to stay in the city's pension plan - would apply only to new hires, not current workers.

So there is unlikely to be much in the way of budget savings for the city, at least at first. But the Nutter administration contends the proposal has the potential for significant long-term savings, particularly if large numbers of employees opt to sign up for a 401(k)-type defined contribution plan instead of the traditional pension.

"We should save some money in the short term. But it's over the long term as more and more people decide to take the defined-contribution option that I think you'll see real savings," said city Finance Director Rob Dubow.

"The other important thing for us is, it starts to shift some of the investment risks - and benefits - over to employees and away from the taxpayers," Dubow said.

If approved by City Council, the legislation would raise the pension contribution rate for new nonunion city workers from 1.85 percent to 3.3 percent.

For those workers who chose the 401(k)-type option instead of a pension, the city would contribute 50 cents for every dollar an employee contributes to his or her retirement plan. The city match would stop once an employee has contributed more than 3 percent of gross annual pay to the retirement plan.

In key respects, the package of proposed retirement benefits resembles those in the contract awarded to members of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge by an arbitration panel late last year, Dubow said.

Mayor Nutter has also been seeking changes to the pension programs of the city's other three unions, all of which have been working without a contract since last summer.

In the administration's view, the city's fast-growing pension costs are one of the single largest threats to Philadelphia's fiscal stability.

But when asked why the administration had not pursued more sweeping changes to the retirement plan of nonunion workers - such as mandatory participation in a 401(k)-type program for new hires - Dubow said the city wanted to treat its employees consistently.

It is not clear that Council would go along with a more aggressive plan to cut pension benefits, even for nonunion workers.

"Similar bills have been put forth in past years, and Council, in its wisdom, has not acted on those," said Bill Rubin, vice chair of the city's pension board and District Council 33's representative on the board.

"There are some serious considerations about this proposal that have not been fully vetted, and we welcome the opportunity to bring those issues to light if and when Council takes up the mayor's legislation," Rubin said.

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Union President Will Appeal 6-Month Suspension For Posing As Internal Affairs Investigator

From The Hackensack Chronicle, April 30

HACKENSACK, NJ – The president of the Hackensack police union is set to receive a six-month unpaid suspension after being found guilty of posing as an internal affairs officer on a popular online forum.

In a decision rendered on April 26 by City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono, Police Officer Anthony Ferraioli was found to be responsible for filing electronic postings on the Hackensack community forum that were described in Lo Iacono’s 21-page decision as "derogatory" and "disrespectful." Lo Iacono further ruled that Ferraioli lied about the ownership of the computer used to write and post the messages on the forum.

Charges were first filed against Ferraioli last July, when he was suspended with pay and charged with using the screen name "IA Salcedo" to post comments on the forum. When the postings were made, Capt. Thomas Salcedo was the head of the department’s internal affairs division.

The question of who owned the computer from which the postings were generated was a major bone of contention during Ferraioli’s disciplinary hearing.

According to testimony, Ferraioli stated during initial interviews with a Hackensack internal affairs officer that the computer was his. However, in later questioning, Ferraioli stated that he had purchased the computer for Dawn Fray, then Ferraioli’s girlfriend and now his wife. Ferraioli testified that he purchased the computer used to make the online comments for his wife, and that he had never used the internal affairs officer’s name to make Internet postings.

During her testimony at her husband’s disciplinary hearing, Fray testified that she both owned the computer and wrote the online comments that led to Ferraioli receiving administrative charges.

Lo Iacono’s language firm in decision

In his ruling, Lo Iacono clearly maintained that Ferraioli’s actions should be considered misconduct, regardless of whatever assertions Ferraioli or Fray made during their testimony. Lo Iacono went on to state that Ferraioli’s actions were inappropriate for a police officer and a public employee.

"The blogs in question and Ferraioli’s untruthful statements about his creation of same constitute uncivil and disrespectful conduct by Ferraioli and constitute untruthful and incomplete testimony about the blogs which interfered with the maintenance of discipline and the regular operation of the Department," Lo Iacono wrote.

While Ferraioli could have faced termination, Lo Iacono administered a penalty of six months suspension without pay, noting in his ruling that the veteran police officer had no "significant prior disciplinary action" taken against him.

Hackensack Police Chief Charles "Ken" Zisa, who had filed several administrative charges against Ferraioli, believed that Ferraioli should be terminated. Chief Zisa could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Ferraioli disciplinary hearing often took on a combative tone. Patrick Toscano Jr., the attorney who is representing Ferraioli, accused the internal affairs division of carrying on a "slipshod" investigation, stating that they had repeatedly violated state Attorney General guidelines during the inquiry. Toscano also pointed to what he believed was persistent improper conduct by Zisa and by the police department that he leads.

Zisa took the stand at the disciplinary hearing in January. During testimony, Toscano attempted to ask Zisa about an alleged incident during which officers under the chief were allegedly ordered to make false entries in a police report, a moment referenced in Lo Iacono’s April 26 ruling. Several weeks later, Lo Iacono ruled to bar the testimony and other evidence related to the incident, stating in his decision that it was "irrelevant" to the charges.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Toscano publicly announced that he had been in contact with officials from the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office concerning Zisa. Toscano also stated at the time that the prosecutor's office might be investigating allegations of official misconduct and insurance fraud allegedly performed by Chief Zisa. However, Bergen County Prosecutor Molinelli has not disclosed whether or not his office is conducting an investigation into Chief Zisa or the police department.

Ferraioli determined to fight on; lawyers duel

In response to the ruling, Ferraioli stated that he would appeal the decision and questioned the way that the hearing was held.

"I don’t agree with the decision at all, and I feel that I did not get a fair hearing," Ferraioli said. "I don’t think that the city manager should have been the hearing officer. He has too many ties to the city. They should have gotten a retired judge who would be more independent to preside over the hearing. It was not fair."

"I thought I was going to get fired, but I didn’t," Ferraioli added. "It was an uphill battle."

Toscano noted in a written reply to the city that the decision was "entirely expected," calling the ruling "a shame" and "a horrific injustice."

But Philip George, the attorney who is representing the City of Hackensack and the Police Department in the Ferraioli matter, felt that justice was served.

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Police Chief Puts Stop To Firefighter Bumper Stickers

From The Daytona Beach News-Journal, April 28

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – A couple of bumper stickers created by the city's firefighters' union that take a potshot at the countywide ambulance service ended up on police patrol cars -- much to the consternation of top police brass.

No one knows how the bumper stickers -- which read "A firefighter saved my life and EVAC billed me" -- wound up pasted on the rear bumpers of the cruisers, both Police Chief Mike Chitwood and Fire Chief Gary Hughes said Tuesday.

Regardless, the two chiefs spoke about the issue "in passing," according to Hughes.

"It was a 20-second conversation," Chitwood said.

He couldn't recall the exact wording of the talk and said he just wanted the Fire Department to know police cars are not for advertising points of view because law enforcement must maintain its neutrality.

Some Daytona Beach firefighters have been fighting for the right to transport patients to the hospital, with the fees they could charge for that service helping to offset the department's costs. Volusia County has turned down requests from cities to cut in on EVAC's ambulance business, fearing it will drive up costs countywide.

Hughes said none of his people will admit to placing the bumper stickers on the patrol cars.

"I made it very clear to my people not to place any stickers on any city vehicles," Hughes said Tuesday.

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Detective awarded $225,000 in fit-for-duty case

From The Towson Times, April 28

BALTIMORE COUNTY, MD – A federal jury on Wednesday awarded a $225,000 judgment to a Baltimore County police detective whom the county ordered to undergo a brain scan after learning the detective had suffered a seizure.

After two hours of deliberating, the jury awarded the money to Detective William Blake for the emotional distress he suffered as a result of the county’s actions, said Blake’s attorney, Kathleen Cahill.

“This is a very important case for all Baltimore County employees,” Cahill said. “I am so pleased to see justice done for this fine officer.”

Blake, a 30-year veteran of the force, had accused the county of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by ordering him to undergo a procedure he called “highly intrusive.”

The conflict began in 2004 after Philip Crumbacker, a 22-year veteran, was declared medically unfit for duty after crashing his car during a seizure.

Blake and two other officers testified on Crumbacker’s behalf during an Aug. 31, 2006, administrative hearing, saying that each of the three had single episodes similar to seizures but were fit for duty and experienced no subsequent medical problems. Blake suffered a seizure in 1996 but was cleared for duty one month later.

Former Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence Sheridan, who now heads the state police, ordered each of the three to submit to fit-for-duty exams the day after the hearing, according to Blake’s suit.

“This (Sheridan’s) action has been ordered ... wholly without legal basis and in violation of Officer Blake’s rights,” Cahill wrote in the suit filed in January 2007. “Compelling an employee to submit to a medical evaluation and to turn over medical records, wholly without medical justification, is illegal.”

Cahill alleged the scan was payback for the officer’s testimony at the Crumbacker hearing.

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson has said it’s important to know which officers are prone to seizures because of public safety concerns, especially when it comes to driving a car or using a firearm during a sniper situation.

County spokesman Don Mohler said county attorneys were reviewing the verdict and had 30 days to decide whether to appeal.

Cole Weston, the president of the Baltimore County police union, said he was pleased with the decision.

“It clears up any question with regard to Bill’s health,” he said. “But in my mind, there never was any question.”

Weston said he believes the decision sets a standard that the county’s police administration must follow when dealing with officers who’ve had seizures.

“We still have a number of cases with decisions in our favor from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission),” Weston said. “This should validate the cases of other officers.”

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