Pittsburgh police union contests end to overtime pay for suspended officers

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, 6:51 p.m.

The Pittsburgh police union and Mayor Bill Peduto's administration squabbled Thursday over a controversial agreement that permitted suspended officers to collect overtime pay for hours they haven't worked.

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 accused the administration of being “untruthful at best” for blaming former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration for the agreement, and said a city official signed it about two weeks after Peduto took office on Jan. 6, 2014.

Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said the document was a “sidebar” pact negotiated before Peduto took office. He said the administration never agreed to the practice and that the mayor was unaware of it until this week when he ordered an end to the practice.

The union has vowed to fight Peduto's order in arbitration.

“The former police contract expired on Dec. 31, 2014, and such sidebar agreements to that contract are no longer in effect,” McNulty said.

The FOP, however, produced a copy of the agreement signed Jan. 22, 2014, by union and police officials and an assistant city solicitor.

“Why would they make the statement that it occurred under the prior administration when clearly that wasn't the case?” asked former union President Mike LaPorte, who signed the document along with union attorney Bryan Campbell, former acting police Chief Regina McDonald, former Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson and Assistant Solicitor Wendy Kobee.

“Are they going to say that Ravenstahl was responsible for the JFK assassination, too?”

LaPorte, who retired as a city police officer and now works as an Allegheny County sheriff's deputy, is an FOP trustee and chairman of the union's Health and Welfare Committee. He said city Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez Ridge was present for the signing.

The agreement permits officers on paid suspension for more than 30 days to collect regular pay, plus a prior year's average of overtime and wages for side police jobs known as secondary employment.

Police union President Howard McQuillan said the city had suspended officers for months without issuing formal discipline and thereby deprived them of extra pay they normally would have earned. The agreement, he said, was designed to address that.

“We felt that 30 days was a fair time for the administration to do a fair and extensive investigation and issue discipline if they felt that was warranted,” he said. “Everybody agreed to that.”

The issue surfaced in recent days, following the city's paid suspension and subsequent firing of Sgt. Stephen Matakovich, whom officials accused of using excessive force in November when he punched a teenager at Heinz Field during an arrest captured on video.

Matakovich earned $190,644 in 2015 and was the seventh-highest paid city employee, according to information provided by the city personnel department. It included his base salary of $69,287, $17,408 for such things as shift differential and uniform allowance and $103,949 in premium earnings.

Matakovich has appealed his firing to Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, who said he would likely issue a decision next week. The 20-year police veteran also is likely to be charged criminally. A district judge previously dismissed charges of simple assault and official oppression, but Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said his office intends to refile them. It had not done so as of Thursday.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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