Houston K-9 Officers sue for OT over dogs' care
Thursday, July 02, 2009
- Organization: Houston Chronicle
Houston K-9 officers sue for OT over dogs' care
By BRIAN ROGERS
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
July 2, 2009, 9:50PM
Share Print Share Del.icio.usDiggTwitterYahoo! BuzzFacebookStumbleUponAbout 50 Houston police officers who have worked with department K-9 units have filed a federal lawsuit seeking overtime wages tied to the care of the dogs they were assigned.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by lawyers with the Houston Police Officers Union, alleges the city violated federal employment laws by not paying the officers for the time beyond their regular 40-hour work schedules that it took to feed, clean, transport and care for the dogs that lived at their homes.
City officials said the officers already are compensated, through assignment pay, typically $150 extra a month, and are allowed to wash and exercise the dogs during the work week.
The lawsuit seeks several million dollars to compensate the officers for working an extra hour a day, on average, to take care of the dogs, HPOU attorney Bob Armbruster said.
“Those dogs have to be available to respond 24/7 and it takes time at home to take care of those dogs,” Armbruster said. “The city is not compensating them for that.”
Armbruster said at least one officer wants to speak publicly about the policy, but HPD has not given him permission.
Houston City Attorney Arturo Michel said he expects the lawsuit to go forward because the city’s position is that the time allotted during the shift, plus assignment pay, should be enough compensation for the time officers need to fulfill their duties.
Armbruster and Michel said the lawsuit addresses the past two to three years and both hoped to come to a compromise for the future.
It’s not the first time the overtime issue for dog care has come up.
It was a 1994 federal lawsuit by 45 Houston K-9 officers that led to the $150-a-month assignment pay, said Michel.
“Now, what the plaintiffs’ are saying is, that it’s insufficient,” the city attorney said.
All but one of the 1994 plaintiffs settled out of court.
Sgt. Paul Blackshear was awarded about $32,000 in overtime — 11/2 hours overtime per day for a two-year period — in 1995.