Lewes police officers want to be paid overtime for the length of the ongoing state of emergency.
The police department’s contract, which was negotiated by General Teamsters Local 326 on behalf of officers, states that all time worked during a state of emergency shall be paid at the overtime rate for the duration of the emergency.
The city paid officers overtime from March 12 through May 17 before stopping. The Teamsters filed an unfair labor practice claim against the City of Lewes with the Delaware Public Employment Relations Board June 9. The city currently has 12 officers, including Police Chief Tom Spell and Lt. James Azato; however, the top two officers have their own contracts with the city and are not involved in the current dispute.
City officials declined to comment on the matter. However, in an email April 1, City Manager Ann Marie Townshend estimated the overtime pay would cost the city about $11,000 every two weeks. The state is now 18 weeks into the state of emergency with no indication when Gov. John Carney will rescind the order; he extended the state of emergency an additional 30 days July 6. If the city had paid officers the entire time, it would’ve cost an estimated $100,000 more than a typical year so far.
On April 1, Townshend indicated the city was seeking guidance as to whether overtime funds were reimbursable through FEMA or stimulus funds. Townshend declined to comment when asked for an update.
In a letter to the Teamsters, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the unusual circumstances of the current state of emergency were not the intention for additional pay when the city negotiated the contract. He said overtime during a state of emergency is intended for events such as a hurricane where the city heavily depends upon police officers to guide it through the crisis. Currently, he said, the police department is not working any more than normal.
“Operationally, there has not been a heavier reliance upon the police department that would justify the overtime rate of pay,” Mandalas said in the letter.
Mandalas said he consulted with an attorney in Carney’s office who said there is a distinct difference between a severe weather emergency and the current situation, which is a public health threat.
Another major difference, Mandalas argued, is that the state is now open, with almost every industry allowed to operate under certain restrictions.
“The state is not operating under a severe weather state of emergency with road closures or similar circumstances that would increase the burden upon law enforcement while other employees were sent home,” Mandalas wrote.
If the city were to continue to pay all officers overtime, he said, it “will severely impact the city’s financial well-being.”
Deborah L. Murray-Sheppard, executive director of the public employment relations board, said the case is being held in abeyance while the two sides attempt to work out their differences. If they are unable to resolve the dispute, the city’s deadline to file an official response to the unfair labor practice charge is Monday, Aug. 10.
Lewes Police Department’s shop steward for the union is Sgt. James Locklear. He said there have been discussions between the two sides as recently as this week, and he hopes the dispute will be cleared up soon.