Police union President Bob Hamilton worked as a regular lieutenant for just three days in 2009, reporting that he needed to spend the rest of the year on union business.
The city paid him for 252 days of union work.
The amount was a new record for the most union days taken in one year at the Schenectady Police Department. The previous all-time high was held by former union 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.
Hamilton said he had to perform union duties during 26 of his 31 vacation and personal days, according to records released Friday under the Freedom of Information Act.
City officials found that claim difficult to believe.
“It just seems more than unusual that that much time should be needed for such a small police force,” said Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett.
He noted that the union leaders in the state police represent about 1,200 troopers each — while Hamilton represents about 150 officers.
“In fairness to him, the disciplinary hearings this year have been abnormally high,” Bennett said. “He will argue it’s prep time. There’s some truthfulness to that. But what about the rest of the time?”
Hamilton did not return a call seeking comment.
For years, Hamilton has claimed he cannot report for duty because of union business so often that the department no longer expects him to come to work. Management created a new position, hiring an extra lieutenant to handle what used to be Hamilton’s supervisory duties. Hamilton does not even call in daily; his days are automatically marked off with a “u” for union business.
He traditionally works holidays, as well as a few regular weekdays. In 2009, two of his three days of work were holidays — New Year’s and Lincoln’s Birthday. For each, he was paid time and a half, as the police contract requires.
By cashing in credits from previous years and earning the extra holiday pay, Hamilton earned a total of $103,566 last year — well over his $70,410 regular salary.
His number of work days did not come as a surprise, but Mayor Brian U. Stratton labeled it a disappointment.
“It’s unfortunately just a repeat of what it’s been — and even worse,” he said, calling Hamilton a poor role model.
“He’s a lieutenant who we need to depend on,” Stratton said. “Unfortunately, until we get fundamental changes in our contract, we are not able to control that.”
Ever since Hamilton began taking off most of his work year for union business, the mayor has questioned whether Hamilton truly works on union issues for eight hours a day, five days a week. By law, he is not required to say what work he does — and the city is not allowed to ask him for any proof.
According to sources, the city once had a private investigator follow Hamilton, but could not prove that he was not working. The problem, they said, was that Hamilton could work anywhere — on the golf course he could be meeting with disgruntled officers; in bed at midnight he could receive a phone call about a contract violation and spend the rest of the night writing a grievance.
Hamilton has noted every year at this time that he has to be available 24-7, since his members work three shifts. He also argues that he works 60 hours a week or more, researching discipline cases to make sure current discipline is consistent with previous punishments, writing grievances, preparing for negotiations and working with department leaders on new policies.
Despite that, city officials say they’re sick of paying him to do non-police work when they desperately need more officers on the streets yet can’t afford to hire more. Bennett thinks the police union should pay Hamilton’s salary out of dues instead — freeing the department to hire another officer.
Some law enforcement unions, including the state police union, use dues to pay their full-time representatives. Bennett says anything else is unfair to the taxpayers.
“Any employer expects to make arrangements [for union time] but when it becomes unreasonable and the majority of their time amounts to union business, that’s full release on the taxpayer dime and that’s unacceptable,” Bennett said.
City officials are trying to negotiate for limits on union time in the next contract, which is under negotiation now, Stratton said.
“I’m hopeful that the new contract will bring some changes in that area, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.