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Baltimore Police union says city has underpaid officer overtime for years

Baltimore's police union says the city has for years underpaid overtime for officers.

Baltimore's police union is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit filed against the city recently in U.S. District Court that alleges a widespread and ongoing practice of underpayment of overtime for officers.

The lawsuit claims that the city has been miscalculating overtime rates for officers for at least three years — a time period that has seen police overtime spike amid a reduction in police staffing and rising violent crime.

Attorneys for the union, who did not respond to requests for comment, said in their complaint that they can't put a number or dollar figure on the amount of loss, but that it affects more than 2,600 police union members. They are seeking damages plus interest.

"The sworn men and women of the Baltimore Police Department work tirelessly to keep Baltimore City safe," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiffs simply ask to be compensated for overtime hours in accordance with all laws."

City officials declined to address the claims in the lawsuit or provide background on the dispute.

"We are reviewing the allegations of the lawsuit and will respond to the complaint accordingly," city spokesman Anthony McCarthy said. "It is our policy not to comment on ongoing litigation."

The suit cites the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the 40-hour work week and overtime pay for some workers exceeding it, and says it affects "all officers in the same manner."

Officers are supposed to be paid 1.5 times their hourly wage for overtime work, the union said citing its memorandum of understanding with the city.

The lawsuit shows payslips for officers in three different classes covered by the contract. The union's calculations for the time officers worked and what they were paid shows them being paid 3 percent less than time-and-a-half.

The union's lawyers say they raised concerns about overtime pay rates before October 2014, and said the city corrected the error. That month, the union filed a grievance requesting city re-calculate "all affected member's overtime rate of pay for the last three years prior to correcting their mistake."

But now, the union alleges, the city reverted to the previous, incorrect overtime rates.

Earlier this year, police said overtime was expected to reach $49 million for the fiscal year ending in June — more than three times the amount budgeted. Police sought to curb spending for the final weeks of the year, and the final amount spent on overtime for the year was $39.8 million, McCarthy said Friday.

In fiscal year 2015, $20.1 million was budgeted for police overtime, and $35.1 million was spent, including an estimated $7.75 million during the unrest in April and May after Freddie Gray's death from a spinal injury sustained in police custody.

Contributing to the spike in overtime payment is a decline in manpower, with hundreds of positions frozen, in addition to regular vacancies and officers on suspension or medical leave.

The lawsuit asks the court to certify its law firm, Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner, as counsel for the class of affected officers.

The union has several ongoing legal fights with the city.

A longstanding legal action related to pension changes continues in state courts, while the union recently claimed a victory over promotions after an officer sued claiming supervisor vacancies were not being filled in a "reasonable period of time."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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