MILWAUKEE, WI — The union representing Milwaukee police supervisors is suing the city, claiming members on duty disability retirement deserve a pay raise like their working peers.
The Milwaukee Police Supervisors Organization contends the city must pay duty disability retirees based on the current salary of their last rank, per city ordinance.
In the last contract, the union negotiated a 5.8% wage increase but the city has said that was an “offset” for active employees who are now paying a 7% member contribution to their pensions.
The city argues those retirees on duty disability never had to pay into their pensions and therefore should not receive a wage increase intended to offset those payments.
“We don’t agree it was a pension offset,” said Fred Perillo, an attorney representing the union.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city has increased duty disability payments in accordance with collective bargaining contracts in the past to account for cost-of-living increases, for example.
But this specific wage increase is for those who made pension contributions, he said.
“Every time we have a situation like this where people are trying to get more from the pension or from the city, it’s costing the taxpayers dollars,” Barrett said.
Duty disability was designed to be a safety net for Milwaukee police and firefighters hurt on the job. Most officers and firefighters approved for it receive 75% of their salaries, tax free, which results in about the same take-home pay as when they were working.
The police supervisors on duty disability retirement received increased payments on Dec. 20, 2016, attributed to the negotiated wage increase.
Three months later, the city retirement system told them not only would they stop getting the increase but the city also was going to recoup what had already been paid out, according to the lawsuit.
The suit, filed last month in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, lists 14 plaintiffs who claim an annual wage loss between $4,000 and $6,000 per year.
The union representing the city’s firefighters has notified the city it intends to pursue a similar lawsuit.
So far, the Milwaukee Police Association, the union representing 1,600 rank-and-file officers, has not filed paperwork indicating it will sue.
The MPA and firefighters’ contracts were negotiated after the supervisors’ contract and explicitly states that if an employee does not make the pensions contribution, he or she will not get the offset payment, according to a city attorney’s opinion.
Duty disability retirement was set up as a safeguard for city employees in hazardous professions.
But a 2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found an increasing number of police officers suspected of wrongdoing have claimed debilitating stress — sometimes even citing departmental disciplinary investigations or media coverage as the cause of that stress. Since then, the city has tightened rules around disability cases.
One of the named plaintiffs in the police supervisors’ lawsuit received duty disability retirement after making that argument.
Jason Mucha, a former Milwaukee police sergeant with a long history of misconduct complaints, sought duty disability, saying publicity over the complaints left him paranoid, depressed and suicidal.
Mucha, who also supervised four officers later charged in connection with illegal strip-searches, was not disciplined in any of the cases. He last worked in March 2012.