From: Oakland Tribune
While Fremont police Officer Glenn Miller probably wouldn’t describe himself as “high maintenance,” he says it takes him longer than the average Joe to get ready for work.
Before Miller clocks in, he has to polish his boots, test his weapons, strap on his protective gear, align his vest to his pants and make sure everything looks just right.
“You can’t just throw these things on,” he said.
Now Miller and other officers in Fremont and Union City say they must be paid for the daily chore.
Officers in both cities have filed suit in federal court arguing that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that patrol officers be compensated for the 20 to 30 minutes they say it takes to dress and undress.
If a U.S. District Court judge agrees, Fremont and Union City could face a sizable payout.
Patrol officers are asking for up to three years of back pay, which their attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, estimates would amount to $15,000 per officer.
In Union City, where 66 officers have joined the lawsuit, that adds up to just under $1 million. Miller said about 170 active-duty officers in Fremont would be eligible for backpay.
Wilkinson’s law firm has filed lawsuits in 12 jurisdictions on behalf of patrol officers after a 2005 Supreme Court ruling involving workers in a meat-packing plant.
In that case, the court ruled that the plant had to pay meat- packing workers for the time it took to put on and take off protective suits worn on the production floor.
“The Supreme Court made it clear that time spent putting on uniforms that are indispensable to the job is work performed that must be compensated,” Wilkinson said. “You can’t arrest someone without a pair of handcuffs and a badge identifying you as a police officer.”
But Martin Mayer, whose firm, Jones & Mayer, represents public agencies including the California Sheriffs Association, says the police unions are twisting the court’s logic and overstating the time it takes to put on their uniforms.
“I’ve asked (patrol officers), ‘How long does it take you to put on the vest and belt?'” he said. “Maybe 30 seconds.”
Moreover, Mayer added, while the meat-packing workers had no choice but to put on what were essentially moon suits at the factory, patrol officers, like most other employees, are free to dress and undress at home.
“Do I tell my law partner I should be compensated for putting my suit on in the morning?” he asked.
Attorneys for Fremont and Union City did not return phone calls Thursday.
Wilkinson said she would like to see Fremont and Union City follow the lead of other agencies that have been paying officers for the time it takes to prepare for their shift.
Berkeley, she said, allots officers 20 minutes at the end of their shift to undress, and the California Highway Patrol’s current contract gives officers a 3.5 percent premium for the time it takes to dress and undress.