Police union President Robert Hamilton spent all but 12 days working on union business last year. Of the days he did work in uniform, many were holidays, for which he was paid 21⁄2 times his normal salary.
Because he receives full pay from the city while working for the union to fight city decisions, he is annually criticized for not spending more time in uniform.
Hamilton, a lieutenant, took 222 days off for union business, as well as 18 vacation days, 10 sick days and one personal day. But he said his only true days off last year were the days he spent working behind the lieutenant’s desk.
“Nobody wants my [union] job. It’s terrible,” said Hamilton, who was paid $129,908 last year. His base salary is $70,400, but he received a $10,000 retroactive raise and cashed in overtime credits from prior years. The holidays that Hamilton worked cost the city so much — $88 an hour rather than Hamilton’s normal $35 — that Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the city would be better off if Hamilton never came to work.
But Hamilton said he would rather return full-time to his job as a lieutenant than continue running the union. He cited the number of hours it takes to prepare cases for arbitration.
“It would be a lot easier for me to just go in and do my job every day, eight hours a day,” he said. “I worked 3,800 hours last year [for the union]. I didn’t go away anywhere on vacation last year, not once. I’m sick of doing it, my family is sick of me doing it, but I ran unopposed the last two times. Nobody else wants to do it.”
The city would prefer that he didn’t do it either — at least not so often. Hamilton has taken more union days than any other union president in the city’s history. Stratton called it an “abuse” of the city’s union privileges and dismissed Hamilton’s claims of being sick of his job.
“That’s $25,000 a day. That’s a great job,” Stratton said, referring to the number of days worked in uniform. “He’s run several times for it — he obviously doesn’t think it’s that terrible a job.”
Stratton also questioned whether Hamilton is actually working on union business every day.
“He expects us to believe he’s working 222 days? That’s crazy,” Stratton said.
By state law, the city can’t ask Hamilton to describe his activities. All he must do is say that he needs union time. So last year Stratton asked for a restriction on union time in the new labor contract — but then refused the union’s only offer on the subject.
Hamilton said he was willing to restrict union presidents to taking only 75 percent of their year for union business. Overtime work might also have been prohibited.
“There were a series of givebacks,” Hamilton said. “All we wanted was the firefighters’ deal [4 percent raises for 5 years]. And they said no, no, no, we need much more back from you than from the Fire Department.”
Stratton laughed when asked why he didn’t accept Hamilton’s offer.
“It’s ludicrous,” Stratton said. “He’s saying, ‘Listen, instead of being absent 95 percent of the time, I’ll reduce my absences to 75 percent of the time, what a deal!’ That’s crazy! Why doesn’t he come to work?”
Stratton now wants the union to pay Hamilton’s salary.
“Then there’s no expectation for him to come to work and there’s no further public embarrassment,” Stratton said.
Other local departments — including Albany — are members of Council 82, in which representatives are paid by the union to work full-time on negotiations, disciplinary problems and any other issues.
Hamilton agreed that if his police joined Council 82, they would no longer need him.
“If I were part of Council 82, I could just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, we have an issue, take care of it,’ ” Hamilton said.
But the Schenectady police chose years ago to form an independent union so they could fight grievances that Council 82 and other large organizations might consider minor.
“Parent organizations can decide which grievances to fight. Our members wanted to make that decision ourselves,” Hamilton said.
That means Hamilton and his part-time attorney must file grievances, court briefs and other complicated paperwork themselves.
“We put almost 100 exhibits into the interest arbitration [for the labor contract]. I personally did almost 80 of them,” Hamilton said. “It took months upon months to prepare.”
He also filed a 50-page brief opposing Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett’s assumption of disciplinary authority. The state Public Employment Relations Board will soon rule on the issue.
Hamilton said the amount of legal paperwork led him to consider hiring a full-time attorney, but union attorney Michael Ravalli refused.
“Quite honestly, I asked,” Hamilton said. “And I’ve asked him more than once over the past couple years. He’s a partner in a firm. With a firm comes security and what-not. Plus I’m sure it’s a money issue. We can’t pay enough.”