Arbitrator Tom Yaeger issued a decision on August 7, 2008 awarding minimum court appearance pay to two City of Sun Prairie (City) detectives. A grievance was filed on behalf of the officers alleging that the City violated the contract between it and the Sun Prairie Professional Police Association (SPPA) when it refused to pay the officers for testifying in court while off-duty. A grievance arbitration hearing was held on April 24, 2008. The SPPA was represented by WPPA Staff Attorney Roger Palek and WPPA Business Agent Paul Negast.
The contract provided for a minimum of three hours of pay for every court appearance that occurred outside of a regular shift. The City took the position that if a scheduled court appearance occurred less than three hours prior to an employee’s regular shift, then the employee was only entitled to the amount of time actually spent in court prior to the commencement of the regular shift. The SPPA argued that the contract language required three hours of pay regardless of when (outside the shift) the appearance was made, or how long it actually lasted.
The arbitrator held that the language was clear and unambiguous. He found that the minimum pay language was in the contract to recognize the inconvenience a court appearance had on an officer’s off-duty time. He also noted that the language required a three hour minimum amount of pay and there were no exceptions for appearances made less than three hours prior to a shift. Finally, the arbitrator concluded that similar minimum language in the contract did have such exceptions, and the parties could easily have done so in the court appearance language if that was their intent.
While the monetary award was relatively modest, this decision is extremely important in terms of a local taking action to stop a rogue chief and City from simply ignoring inconvenient contract language. Testimony at the hearing disclosed that a new software program created problems for the officers in recording the proper minimum court pay. Rather than finding a creative way to address the problem, the City simply ignored the language. Ensuring that contracts bargained in good faith are respected and enforced is of significant statewide value to all WPPA members. Understanding and appreciating the precious nature of an officers’ off-duty time is another critical result of this decision. No mandatory court appearance pay can ever fully compensate for the disruption caused to an officer and his or her family while off-duty. However, the minimal amount of compensation which is bargained for, and attempts to do so in contract language must be respected. The logic and reasoning of Arbitrator Yaeger in this decision should help to send that message.
The WPPA staff greatly appreciate the courage and cooperation of the individual officers represented in the grievance, as well as the support of the local SPPA leadership that was provided throughout this effort.