Schenectady County

Schenectady’s PBA union chief criticized

The police union chief appears to have spent just four days in uniform last year, taking off 225 day
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Categories: Schenectady County

The police union chief appears to have spent just four days in uniform last year, taking off 225 days to file grievances, argue over disciplinary measures and negotiate a new contract for his officers.

But he still drew a full year’s pay, receiving $65,000 for his work. He also cashed in on overtime he accrued in previous years, bringing his total salary to $91,600.

Police Benevolent Association President Robert Hamilton argued that he earned his salary because his work made the department more efficient and kept officers happy by smoothing over labor disputes.

But Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said the city wasted its money. In fact, Bennett said, Schenectady is essentially paying Hamilton to sue the city.

“I would certainly question whether this is a wise investment for the city,” Bennett said.

City officials have struggled to keep the police budget in the black every year and afford more officers to crack down on crime and reduce response times. Mayor Brian U. Stratton has repeatedly cited Hamilton’s use of union leave as an example of departmental excess and abuse of privileges.

City workers are paid for 260 days of work each year, but police can take an unlimited number of days off for union business. Hamilton took 225 union days last year, according to city records. He also used his 31 vacation and personal days, and took no sick days, leaving him with four regular working days.

The attendance figures were provided to The Daily Gazette in response to a Freedom of Information request. However, Hamilton disputed the figures, saying he believed he’d worked as a department lieutenant for about 12 days last year.

“It’s probably around 12. But what’s the difference?” he said. “It’s not a big difference, but I know offhand four is not correct.”

He acknowledged that the public might view his union days as excessive, but said residents don’t understand how much work he does as union president.

“I don’t get days off, that’s what nobody gets,” he said. “I work 365 days a year. It never stops; 2007 was busier than any year yet.”

He said that ever since Chief Michael N. Geraci left in October, he’s been forced to resolve minor labor disputes by preparing legal briefs, researching past decisions and then filing official grievances for arbitration. He used to resolve those issues informally with Geraci, he said.

“Now I have to go through all our legal options,” he said. “I’ve got dozens of hearings coming up … there’s so much work, it’s unbelievable.”

He said he is handling 30 to 40 active grievances and dozens of disputes over disciplinary actions.

Bennett said he’s willing to negotiate those matters informally, but Hamilton said he doesn’t want to go to Bennett.

“He just got here. He doesn’t have the experience with the contract. It’s not fair to him,” Hamilton said.

Bennett said he can handle contract disputes.

“He knows the door is open. We’ve had discussions, and frankly I’d prefer it to be done that way,” Bennett said, adding, “I have answers for him. Some he’ll like, some he won’t.”

BENNETT OBJECTS

Bennett also questioned whether Hamilton really had enough work to keep him busy for 225 days last year.

“One hundred and sixty people, in my opinion, do not generate enough labor issues to warrant a full-time, full-release president,” Bennett said, noting that when he was the superintendent of the state police, the troopers’ union had one full-time union representative for every 1,250 employees.

The state police union also reimburses the state for its leaders’ salaries, since they spend the entire year on union business. Bennett said the Schenectady PBA should do the same.

“I’m flat-out against the fact that the city pays the salary,” Bennett said. “It would be one thing if they were required to justify taking the time, but PERB (the state Public Employment Relations Board) doesn’t even allow that.”

Hamilton said he worked far more than the 225 days he claimed last year.

“It’s so stacked up now, I’ll be working the next two years just on what happened that year,” he said. “It goes on and on and on. Every day there are several issues that pop up. The bottom line is I work 365 days a year.”

Bennett said the situation is particularly difficult because Hamilton, as a lieutenant, is hard to replace.

“A lieutenant’s position is an important, supervisory position in the department,” Bennett said. “You have obviously less people to fill in. Sometimes we run into a situation when we cannot fill it and then we have to bring in a captain on his day off.”

But Hamilton said the entire city benefits from his union work. Without an active union president, he said, the police would become frustrated by unresolved contract disputes and morale would fall.

“We work on departmental issues every day so the department runs better, to make the police department as effective and efficient as it can be,” he said. “It’s important to have good labor relations with your employees.”

Hamilton does not hold the record for the most union days taken in one year by a Schenectady officer. That record appears to be held by former PBA President Anthony Brown, who claimed 245 days for union business in 2003. He not only took off every day that he was scheduled to work, but also said he had to complete union business on at least 10 vacation days.

In 2004, Brown reported for police duty far more often, taking just 75 days for union business. At the end of that year, Hamilton took over as president.

Hamilton started by taking off 190 days for union business, working as a police officer for 39 days in 2005. Last year, he reported for duty on just 10 occasions. The department had a high of 21 vacancies last year, and Mayor Brian U. Stratton criticized Hamilton for taking so much time off while the department was understaffed. All but one of those vacancies have now been filled.

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