On January 31, 2009, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that approximately 50 Louisville Metro Police officers decided to turn in their patrol cars so they will not have to pay an increased fee for using them after work hours. Police Chief Robert White announced in December, 2008 that officers who take their vehicles home would have to pay a $100 monthly fee to help cut expenses in the department and help address a $20 million projected city budget shortfall. Officers who use their cars for off-duty employment will have to pay $160 per month.
Previous to the announcement, officers were paying a $30 monthly fee or $60 for off-duty employment use. The fees have been an issue of contention between the police administration and the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents officers. The union contends that assessing the fee violates their contract because it was not negotiated as a change. However, police department managers say driving cars home is a privilege and is not part of the officers’ contract.
The policy that assessed the original fee is the subject of a grievance that is presently outstanding. When the fee was increased, the grievance was amended to include the new proposed charges.
The police department estimates that approximately 1,094 police department vehicles are used as take-home cars. With the policy in place and the increased fees, the police department estimates that a savings for the city in the amount of $110,000.00 will be realized on a monthly basis.
While this particular article does not have direct applicability to New Jersey Public Labor Law, it does demonstrate that state, county, and municipal police departments throughout the country are looking to curtail spending and reduce costs due to the economic recession. If cuts have not been made in many departments throughout New Jersey, union leaders can expect to see the implementation of cost savings measures soon. It is vitally important to the rights of organized public safety officers that each one of these “cuts” or cost savings measures be assessed and evaluated to determine if the actions are contractual violations and should therefore be the subject of a group grievance. Keep your eyes and ears open and be sure that the rights of your members are being protected. Finally, always be sure to fight within the confines of the law to preserve the integrity of your collective bargaining agreement.