New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer plans to give first responders “Hero’s Pay” out of federal CARES Act funds. The county police union claims the promise is being leveraged to suppress a grievance.
“For the head official of New Castle County to essentially say, ‘You're not going to receive the hazard duty pay unless you withdraw your grievance,’ to me is absolutely unprofessional, and essentially an unfair labor practice,” said local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 (FOP) president Jonathon Yard. “You can't do that.”
Yard says Meyer is threatening to exclude officers from his proposed “Hero’s Pay” program if the union does not withdraw a grievance regarding comp time. Under the Hero’s Pay program, active full-time first responders employed by the county, its municipalities or fire companies would each get $10,000 out of federal relief funds for working during the coronavirus crisis.
Yard claims his members should also receive administrative leave with pay (ALA), a form of comp time which kicks in for essential employees during some County emergencies.
But the County Executive says the ALA policy does not apply to the current situation.
“The ALA policy applies when the County is closed and some employees don’t work, typically for a weather event such as a snow closure,” County Executive spokesperson Brian Cunningham wrote in an email. “The County is not closed, and this is a very different circumstance than a snow day. This is not provided for in the FOP contract.”
Meyer says the union is seeking double hours under the ALA policy, which allows an hour of comp time for each hour worked during a declared state of emergency. Meyer adds the FOP is seeking to monetize the comp time, effectively doubling officers’ pay.
“Receiving Hero's Pay on top of double salary is a gross overreach and amounts to profiteering while many County residents wait in unemployment lines,” Meyer said in an emailed statement Thursday. “Not to mention, [it is a] a poor expenditure of taxpayer dollars.”
The union filed a grievance about the ALA dispute April 3, says Yard. Both the FOP and the County have agreed to settle it through third-party arbitration. County officials estimate a decision could take up to a year.
Yard maintains the CARES Act money should have nothing to do with this grievance.
“To link the hazard duty pay or to try to leverage that against a contractual right and process that we have in place, I don’t want to use the word extortion, but you holding that over our head … in my opinion that is not how the government should run,” he said. “Their idea of us trying to choose one or the other is absolutely ridiculous.”
The conflict came weeks after New Castle County and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 reached a contract agreement after months of tense negotiations. Meanwhile, New Castle County Council members are also questioning the County Executive’s plans for CARES Act money.
Some members of Council expressed concern over the FOP dispute at their meeting Tuesday as they considered an emergency ordinance put forth by the Meyer administration that would appropriate more than $322 million in federal CARES Act dollars.
The proposed ordinance, which Council voted to table, earmarks $9.25 million for salaries and wages, which county officials said includes the “Hero’s Pay.”
County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle said she would not vote for the ordinance unless she were confident police were included in the Hero’s Pay budget.
“I don’t want this kind of political game-playing to go on with this money,” she said. “This is about a pandemic and helping people, and that includes every first responder that we’re committing to, not based on whether they’ve made a complaint or not.”
Councilman Kenneth Woods echoed her concern.
“I’d like to know where that money’s being spent,” he said. “I’d like to know that [the FOP] is involved. If we’re going to see these expenditures that’s one thing, but to see this number come up— salaries and wages, employee benefits— I’d like to know what it’s for.”
Cunningham, spokesman for the County Executive’s office, says the $9.25 million for salaries and wages would include hazard pay for County police.
County Attorney Wilson Davis added during Tuesday’s Council meeting that each individual expenditure within the $9.25 million, including hazard pay, would still come before Council for approval.
“Our country is in the midst of an international pandemic and we have attempted to work with FOP Lodge 5 to develop a plan to provide additional compensation for their front-line efforts during this critical time,” said Meyer. “In the absence of an agreement, we will be forced to address the FOP Lodge 5 demand for additional payments beyond the proposed $10,000 per officer through arbitration.”
Yard says the union does not plan to back down.
“If we just withdraw with him putting that out there, what does that say about us, and our backbone? No, we’re protecting our contractual right,” he said. “It just sets a bad precedent.”