Town officials during a special meeting last month voted unanimously to deny a grievance brought forward by a police officer regarding compensation.
Under the contract between the police union and town, “each permanent employee of the department who is injured or disabled in the performance of his or her duties shall be entitled to injury leave with pay less workers’ compensation, from the date of the injury until such time 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, a labor specialist for the police union, an injury sustained by Officer David Rivera “has never been disputed.”
“We agree collectively that David was out injured. So what happens when you are out injured, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement? The employer is responsible to make up the difference between the workmen’s comp insurance and his base pay. If workman’s comp is contemplating or evaluating the claim, I guess the question would be, what is the employer’s responsibility? It’s clear here that they have to make up the difference.”
Yet an attorney for the town, Chris Hodgson, said the CBA provision in question—Article 21, Section 1, which “provides for a differential between an officer’s pay and the weekly worker’s comp benefit,” doesn’t apply in Rivera’s case.
“For the period of time that Officer Rivera is seeking pay, he had been denied worker’s comp by the worker’s comp commissioner, so therefore the town doesn’t have any obligation to pay anything under the contract,” Hodgson said.
Following an executive session at the meeting, Police Commission Chair Paul Foley, Secretary Jim McLaughlin and member Shekaiba Bennett voted 3-0 to deny the grievance.
Rivera, who attended the hearing, said after Hodgson stated the town’s position, “Based upon my contract, where is there any language that stipulates that would actually occur?”
“In this case, the language is very clear and what the town is trying to do is come up with a decision or a case that behooves them in this case,” Rivera said. “It’s very difficult to take the word ‘shall’ 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 town’s insurer said Rivera was “in noncompliance with physical therapy” and “missed many opportunities” to “rectify the situation.”
Rivera, who participated via videoconference in the hearing, said at the start that the grievance filing was “pretty simple and it comes down to the question of language in regards to my union contract.”
“The language strictly states that an officer that goes out injured, for an approved injury, shall be paid his salary less worker’s comp,” Rivera continued. “And so the idea, obviously, is that if workers’ comp stops paying the town of New Canaan shall pay that officer’s salary and that’s what happened in this case with me. So I’m arguing that I am owed my salary and my vacation days and sick time that was used, and also retroactive pay and my holidays that I never received, that had nothing to do with my salary.”
Parlon said during the hearing that the union has no ability to negotiate with workmen’s comp, which is a matter between the insurance company and employer.
“So the only redress that we have while workmen’s comp takes its time in evaluating—or whatever they were doing, and there are issues with COVID that may have delayed these things—what’s he responsibility of the employer?” Parlon said. “Obviously we think the responsibility of the employer is to pay the employee his until the matter is settled one way or another. That includes of course any retro pay that he is entitled to, because we settled the contract, and in this case, My understanding is the employer deducted sick time and vacation time for him in order to make up some part of the salary. And I’m not sure what part of the salary they allegedly made up with that.”
The union is asking specifically that Rivera be reimbursed pay for the period of Dec. 3 to at least Feb. 6, Parlon said.
“That was the last pay period, plus whatever holidays he’s entitled to and to replace his sick time and his vacation time. And this is something I don’t understand also. The union settled the contract with the town and in the contract there was a retroactive provision for that. And they haven’t paid David. They paid everybody else but they haven’t paid David the retroactive money he’s entitled to. I don’t know how that happened or why that happened. That’s owed an explanation. We have brought it up, but we never got an explanation.”
Foley said the town would provide its decision regarding the grievance complaint in writing within 10 days of the hearing.