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City, police battle over back wages

Union files lawsuit seeking refund of retirement payments

POSTED October 3, 2013 8:57 p.m.

In the realm of city finances, $45,000 hardly makes a dent in the monthly expenses. But for the members of the Turlock Associated Police Officers union, it has become a matter of principle and has prompted them to file a suit against the City of Turlock for breach of contract.

The lawsuit claims the city fell into a breach of contract by continuing to deduct retirement funds from the members, while discontinuing a salary increase during a time period when both stipulations had expired.

“The city was using selective enforcement to their benefit,” said TAPO President Sgt. Russell Holeman.

At issue is a 9 percent payment to the California Public Retirement System that TAPO says should not have been deducted from members’ pay during the month of November in 2012.

In 2011, TAPO agreed to pay 9 percent of the employee contribution to CalPERS between July 16, 2011 to July 15, 2012. Holeman said the union believed the 9 percent would be calculated off of the members' base salary, as it previously was, but instead it was based on everything, including incentive pay.

“It was more than we had expected,” Holeman said. “It was a surprise to us and not what we thought we agreed to.”

In November 2011, the city concluded it had taken more money from city employees than necessary and issued a 4.5 percent equity adjustment for the next six months.

As the contract was nearing an end, both TAPO and the city agreed to extend the deals in place through Oct. 31, 2012.

By the end of October, TAPO and the city had not reached a new contract agreement and all the stipulations that had sunset clauses expired.

 “With no new contract everything should have ended, but the city saw it differently,” Holeman said.

During the month of November, the city ended the 4.5 percent adjustments, but continued to collect the 9 percent CalPERS deduction. The deductions amounted to about $45,000.

The city and TAPO, which represents sworn officers, sergeants, animal control, neighborhood services, community service officers, dispatchers, and property specialists, agreed to a new contract Dec. 1, 2012.

TAPO filed a grievance with the city on Nov. 28, 2012, seeking to have the deducted funds refunded. City Manager Roy Wasden denied the grievance on Jan. 18.

In his denial, Wasden stated that the 9 percent deduction was “a term and condition which continued until new terms and conditions were agreed upon.” Wasden also wrote that the 4.5 percent equity adjustment was a “provision” that expired Oct. 31, 2012.

After the grievance was denied TAPO filed a claim against the city, which should have gone before the City Council.

“I spoke with some of the Council members and implored them to read the claim before rejecting it outright, but it never came before them for a vote,” Holeman said. “Whoever was supposed to put it on the agenda for the Council never did.”

TAPO got no response on the claim, so they had no choice but to file the lawsuit.

“We feel we are on solid ground here,” Holeman said. “We’re not trying to be vindictive. We just want the city to honor the contract they signed.”

The case is scheduled for a case management conference Nov. 25.

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