The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

June 15, 2014

Guards want back pay for roll call

MERCER COUNTY — Fifty-seven present and former corrections officers at the Mercer County Jail have sued the county alleging they are due hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime.

The officers allege they are required by contract to show up for work 10 minutes before their shifts start for roll call.

“In reality the ten-minute unpaid roll call is a 15-minute unpaid roll call,” the suit alleges.

In any event, the contract calls for roll call to be unpaid, but the officers contend that roll call is “compensable” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The officers are members of Teamsters Local 250 and have worked under an extension of a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2012, they said in the suit filed May 22 in U.S. District Court, Pittsburgh.

The officers have not been paid for roll call since Jan. 1, 2009, the first day of the expired contract, they said.

While a message left Saturday with Commissioner John N. Lechner was not returned, the suit included a series of letters in which an employment attorney retained by the county denied the allegations.

Ernest B. Orsatti, the union attorney, sent a letter to the county April 16 stating that the officers are required to report for work 15 minutes early and are not being paid.

“On behalf of my clients, I am requesting that the practice of not paying for roll call cease and desist immediately,” wrote Orsatti, who also requested reimbursement for unpaid roll call over the past two years.

Christopher P. Gabriel, who represents the county, said in a May 2 letter, “(T)he county does pay the officers. Mercer County changed its record keeping system for employee hours to a biometric time-clock system some time ago. Every officer in the jail ‘clocks in’ the minute he or she arrives for work, and ‘clocks out’ the minute he or she leaves.”

While the 10-minute early arrival was established to accommodate roll call, “They were also leaving 10 minutes prior to the end of their shift and were being relieved by the oncoming shift,” Gabriel said.

In response to Orsatti’s letter, roll call was discontinued and officers were told to arrive on time for the shifts, Gabriel said.

“Because you are the lawyer for the union, you are also aware that, at your direction, the union filed a grievance insisting that the county continue the practice about which your April 16 letter complained,” Gabriel said. “That grievance was denied because the county was merely complying with your request to discontinue the practice. Now having these facts explained I trust both you and the union will let this matter drop.”

Orsatti responded that Gabriel “misunderstood” the April 16 letter.

“I did not request that your client discontinue the practice of the roll call,” Orsatti said. “That is a contractual requirement. I requested that your client discontinue violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying the corrections officers for attending these mandatory roll calls.”

The suit alleges that Gabriel acknowledged May 14 that the county owes the officers $250,000 in back pay, but that the county “would recover this same amount from the employees through collective bargaining.” That statement forms the basis of a count of retaliation filed in the suit.

Orsatti said Gabriel would not allow him to review the payroll records from which he arrived at the $250,000 figure, and has not made good on a promise to turn them over.

The officers are seeking unpaid overtime pay, damages and costs.

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