City officials at a special meeting last month voted unanimously to reject a grievance presented by a police officer for compensation.
Under the contract between the police union and the city, “every permanent employee of the service who is injured or disabled in the line of duty is entitled to paid accident leave less workers’ compensation , from the date of the accident until as long as he or she is able to return to work,” according to a provision cited during a Feb. 23 grievance hearing before the New Canaan Police Commission. .
According to John Parlon, labor specialist for the police union, an injury suffered by officer David Rivera “has never been disputed”.
“We collectively agree that David was injured. What happens when you are injured, according to the collective agreement? The employer is responsible for making up the difference between workers’ compensation insurance and his base salary. If the worker’s comp is considering or evaluating the claim, I guess the question would be, what is the employer’s liability? It is clear here that they must make up the difference.
Yet a city attorney, Chris Hodgson, said the CBA provision in question – Article 21, Section 1, which “provides for a differential between an officer’s salary and the worker’s weekly indemnity” , does not apply in the case of Rivera.
“During the period Officer Rivera is seeking pay, the Workers Compensation Commissioner has denied him workers compensation, therefore the City has no obligation to pay anything under the contract,” said Hodgson.
Following an executive session at the meeting, Police Commission Chairman Paul Foley, Secretary Jim McLaughlin and Member Shekaiba Bennett voted 3-0 to dismiss the grievance.
Rivera, who attended the hearing, said after Hodgson stated the city’s position, “Based on my contract, where is there any language that this would actually happen?”
“In this case, the language is very clear and what the city is trying to do is make a decision or a case that is theirs in this case,” Rivera said. “It’s very difficult to take the word ‘must’ and turn it into a different interpretation.”
Rivera is known to many New Canaanites as the police department’s longtime K-9 officer.
According to Foley, the city’s insurer said Rivera was “in noncompliance with physical therapy” and “missed numerous opportunities” to “rectify the situation.”
Rivera, who participated via video link in the hearing, said at the start that filing the grievance was “pretty straightforward and it comes down to the language issue as it relates to my union contract.”
“The language strictly states that an officer who goes out injured, for an approved injury, will receive his pay less the worker’s pay,” Rivera continued. “And so the idea, obviously, is that if workers’ compensation stops paying, the city of New Canaan will pay that officer’s salary and that’s what happened in this case with me. So I’m claiming that I am owed my salary and my holidays and sick leave which have been used, and also a retroactive salary and my holidays which I never received, which had nothing to do with my salary.
Parlon said at the hearing that the union does not have the ability to negotiate with workers’ compensation, which is a matter between the insurance company and the employer.
“So the only recourse we have while workers’ compensation is taking its time to assess – or whatever they are doing, and there are issues with COVID that may have delayed these things – what is the responsibility of the employer?” said Parlon. “Obviously we think the employer’s responsibility is to pay theirs to the employee until the matter is settled one way or another. This of course includes any retro pay he is entitled to as we have settled the contract, and in this case I understand the employer has deducted sick leave and vacation time for him to offset part of the salary . And I don’t know what part of the salary they would have made up with that.
The union is specifically asking that Rivera be reimbursed for his salary for the period from Dec. 3 to at least Feb. 6, Parlon said.
“It was the last pay period, plus the vacation he was entitled to and to replace his sick leave and vacation. And that’s something I don’t understand either. The union settled the contract with the city and in the contract there was a retroactive provision for that. And they didn’t pay David. They paid everyone but they didn’t pay David the retroactive money he’s entitled to. I don’t know how it happened or why it happened. This deserves an explanation. We mentioned it, but we never got an explanation.
Foley said the city will provide its decision on the complaint in writing within 10 days of the hearing.