PENNSYLVANIA – State police officers who receive higher pay when on leave to work for their union must have those extra wages credited toward boosting their state pensions, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Tuesday.
The court’s decision, which upholds a ruling by the State Employees Retirement Board, involves a seven-year, contract-related legal battle between the state police and the Pennsylvania State Police Troopers Association.
At issue was whether the extra pay three police officers received from the union when they took leaves to work full-time for the PSTA should be calculated into their state retirement.
The three were paid by the union at higher rates than they received while on regular duty with the state police. The union then reimbursed the state for the elevated wages. That arrangement was set in an 2008 arbitration award upheld by the state Supreme Court.
According to the Commonwealth Court opinion by Judge P. Kevin Brobson, one of the officers, Bruce Edwards was on full-time union officer leave from 2007 to 2012. His regular rank was sergeant, but while working for the union his pay equalled that of a major.
Corporal Joseph Sarkis was paid a captain’s rate while on full-time union leave from October 2009 to January 2012. Corporal Joseph Kovel was paid at a sergeant level after being elected PSTA president in January 2012.
Brobson noted that Edwards received $29,052 in extra pay while on union duty in 2011. Sarkis was paid an extra $25,667 during the same year, and Kovel received an extra $6,838 in 2012. Inclusion of those added union stipends “significantly” increases their retirement benefits, the judge wrote.
During the fight over the pension issue, the State Employees Retirement System issued a decision that officers on union leave should have received retirement credit only for wages they would have received at their regular ranks. A hearing officer for the system also found that the stipends they received as union officers “were not retirement-covered compensation,” Brobson noted.
The retirement board overturned those decisions, however, prompting the state police and the governor’s Office of Administration to appeal to Commonwealth Court.
Brobson concluded that there is nothing in state regulations that precludes the extra union pay the officers received from being credited toward their state retirement.
In fact, he noted, a section of the State Employees Retirement Code requires that state workers on union leave must receive the same retirement time credit as if they were working full-time for the government. So, Brobson found, “the salary received by those on full-time union leave is considered the salary received by a state employee” and must be factored into their pensions.