Three years ago, Bridgeport, Connecticut, Police Lt. Paul Grech of AFSCME Local 1159, Council 4 suffered a broken neck on the job when a civilian motorist crashed her car into his city vehicle.
“Without surgery, I’d have been in a wheelchair,” the 19-year veteran said about the injury, which put him out of work for 10 weeks.
If not for their union, Grech and several other Bridgeport police officers injured on the job since 2015 would have been shortchanged permanently on a wage supplement owed them under their collective bargaining agreement with the city.
Local 1159 and Council 4 pursued legal action that culminated in a decision by the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations (CSBLR) ordering the city to provide back pay to officers who were affected by their employer’s failure to follow contract language governing injury leave.
“This decision is a tremendous victory for officers who got hurt doing their job, which is to protect the citizens of Bridgeport,” said Local 1159 President Charles Paris. “Through our union, we were able to right a wrong.”
The collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the union and the city that took effect in 2015-16 established a salary supplement to bridge the difference between disability payments received under workers’ compensation law and an officer’s net straight-time pay.
The city, however, continually miscalculated the formula for determining the supplement. Grech’s weekly take-home pay, for example, plummeted to $409.41 from $1,160.44. Another officer’s weekly take-home salary sank to $103.59 from $925.01.
A married father of three, Grech said many of his colleagues were not as fortunate as he was to withstand the chronic underpayments.
“Some of my fellow officers couldn’t pay their bills,” he said.
As soon as injured police officers began to report significantly smaller paychecks, Council 4 Staff Representative/Attorney Kelly Rommel worked with President Paris and the union to fix the inequity.
“We showed [city labor relations representatives] how they were getting the supplement wrong. We gave them ample opportunity to fix the problem, but they continued to calculate the supplements improperly and in violation of our contract,” Rommel said.
Council 4 filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Bridgeport for unilaterally applying its own interpretation of the supplement language and refusing to provide the union with its formula for calculating the benefit.
Council 4 Staff Representative/Attorney Tricia Johnson successfully argued the case before the CSBLR last spring, with a three-person panel ruling in favor of Local 1159 last month.
For Grech and his fellow officers, the affirmative decision was further proof that workers benefit greatly by joining together in unions.
“The union continued to fight for us and help officers in their worst time, when they’re hurt on the job,” he said. “The union gives you reassurance that someone is looking out for you.”
Pictured: AFSCME Local 1159 members Ofc. Ricardo Lopez (executive board), Sgt. Phil Sharp (treasurer), Sgt. Brad Seeley (vice president), Lt. Paul Grech, Sgt. Charles Paris (president) and Ofc. Anthony Georgetti. Photo Credit: AFSCME Local 1159