Mayor Berkowitz “Balancing” Salaries on Backs of Taxpayers

The Alaska expert on government unions has his say on Anchorage Mayor Berkowitz supporting a 37% pay raise for the police chief. Is overtime really overtime or something else?

by Art Chance

Cop(y)Crat Pay

The local “mainstream media” , aka Alaska Dispatch, recently had an article on how Anchorage Mayor Berkowitz wanted to give the deputy police chief and police chief a pay raise because of the difficulty in recruiting for these valuable positions.  Why are there always “recruiting difficulties” in a Liberal/Progressive Administration?

Now, not by way of defense but for explanation, there is a very valid issue with both police and fire supervisors, and executives’ pay if they promote from within the ranks.   Government employers have never really adapted to the changes in overtime eligibility following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Garcia v. San Antonio which found that government employers were subject to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act(FLSA) of 1986.   Up till now, government employers were not subject to the Act and overtime entitlements, if any, were strictly a creature of state and local laws for government employees.   There’s no reason anymore to lament how astoundingly bad Garcia was, and if the taxpayers had any idea how many billions of dollars of their money have been flushed away on phony overtime claims since 1986, there’d be a political hanging from every lamppost in America.   We had a union-owned Democrat government in Alaska in the nineties when most of this went down here and the State just gave your money away.

Under the FLSA, supervisory and managerial employees are not eligible for overtime pay if they’re paid a salary and their time is not docked for absence.   First, the FLSA is a wholly obsolete law first enacted in 1938; the workplace in ’38 was a lot different from today.   Second, the Congress finally got around to making changes in the FLSA in the Nineties when Bill Clinton was President and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee union’s Gerald McEntee was joined to his hip.  Needless to say, the government employee unions did really, really well with the changes in the FLSA.

Actually, police lieutenants, captains, and above are not overtime-eligible under the FLSA, though many Democrat governments have given them OT eligibility partly because of politics and partly because it is so hard to recruit an OT eligible Sergeant making $150K – $200K with OT to a salaried lieutenant at $100K – $150K.   At the State Of Alaska we abandoned our supervisory and OT ineligible State Trooper First Sergeant classification in the Nineties.   We winked and nodded and filled our lieutenants and captains with “acting status” employees and let them keep their OT eligibility.   We never really had any trouble filling our top level positions at the standard State Pay Plan wages for Directors, Deputies, and the like.   And for the record, I have a lot of trouble paying the Chief of the Anchorage Police Department more than a State Division Director and almost as much as a State Commissioner; last I looked, there wasn’t much “recruitment difficulty” with State Directors and Commissioners.

Now here’s the dirty little secret; a very large percentage of the overtime pay that police officers receive is NOT earned by working long hours; it is received because their schedules get changed.   Once you get a bit of seniority, how much depends on the labor agreement, you get to bid a work schedule and you are guaranteed that you will only work that schedule; any deviation and you get paid at the overtime rate.   They disguise this premium pay by reporting it as overtime, but it isn’t overtime as that word has legal meaning.   (Legally, overtime under the FLSA is work beyond 40 hours in a seven day week, or in some instances, 80 hours in a 168 hour work period).   To make this short and understandable; whenever a night shift cop is in court or in the office doing administrative duties on the day shift, he is on overtime and either some other cop is also on overtime filling his billet or the billet goes empty.   If you wonder why the cops can’t get to your house for an hour, there’s your reason.

I don’t have a solution for this beyond the winks and nods we did in my time with the State.   If the employer is stupid enough to guarantee fixed shifts and premium pay for any variation, cops who have a base wage of $50K-$60K make $150K or more on premium pay and overtime.   If you want to promote from within to a salaried supervisory or managerial position they have to accept a huge cut in pay and little if any cut in hours.   If you try to solve it by giving the supervisors and managers overtime, they milk the overtime by going out anytime “the boys” go out so they can collect the OT as well.

There was a good line of cases in the circuit courts back in the ‘80s attacking FLSA application to public employers on 10th Amendment grounds.   I think they have merit but that all died in the union-owned Clinton Administration and so far no Republican has been smart or brave enough to pursue it.   So, you can pay a lot more cops and not pay some of the OT, I don’t know how that will balance out, but the real issue is guaranteed schedules.   As long as the employer is willing to guarantee a cop a fixed schedule and pay  him/her premium pay for any deviation, a non-supervisory cop is going to make $100K or more, often much more, a year.   Why would you take the promotion for less pay?

In 2015, the median cost of an Anchorage Police Department was $161,433.  This is what it costs the taxpayer, not what the employee takes home. 

Here is  the entire 2015 Anchorage Police Department payroll.  The green column is base salary, overtime is in the red column and the total cost of the employee is highlighted in yellow.

In this 2015 payroll the police chief cost the taxpayer $171,879 and the deputy police chief cost the taxpayer $162,747.  So, with a median cost of an APD employee of $161,433, nearly half of the APD force made more than the deputy police chief and almost as much as the police chief.

Since this article was written, the Anchorage Assembly voted to authorize a 37% pay raise for the APD police chief, bringing his salary to $178,364.  The mayor is paying back his debts with taxpayers’ money–property taxes.

Now the mayor may want to increase his pay because in 2015 there were 453 municipal employees who made more than the mayor.  What say you Mayor Berkowitz?

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.  Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is both a Republican and a Democrat.  He is the corporate repository of government union happenings in Alaska.