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Appeals court hears Framingham Police union suit Friday, February 5, 2010
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
BOSTON -- The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard arguments from Framingham and its police union yesterday in a lawsuit over whether the town's overtime formula is lawful.

"There's a genuine concern that this could be a budget buster," Town Counsel Chris Petrini told the three-judge panel.

The police union says the town did not follow proper and lawful procedure when it shifted to a 24-day pay cycle in the 1980s.

Officials say the town has done nothing wrong.

The plaintiffs, about 100 Framingham Police officers, seek overtime pay for hours worked beyond the 40-hour week threshold during a recent three-year stretch.

More than $1.2 million of retro pay could hang in the balance, Petrini said after the hearing.

"It's big money," he said.

The union's attorney, Jack Canzoneri, said the town did not notify its employees of the change and has not properly established a pay period. The town, he said, may have miscalculated overtime pay for years.

"Is it OK that the employees are kept in the dark?" he said in the seventh-floor courtroom at the John Moakley Courthouse on the Boston waterfront.

Petrini said there was a "broad understanding" of the change, "at least on the administrative side of things," when it took place more than two decades ago.

Petrini also said the town, under collective bargaining agreements with the union, had "justifiably compensated," police in Framingham.

The case is ongoing, but Petrini said that a defeat for the town could have significant financial ramifications. Not only would Framingham probably have to cover retro pay, but it would also likely have to shift its overtime formula and pay more in the future.

"It would be the gift that keeps on giving," he said.

The original complaint was filed April 13, 2005. It stated that officers were not paid accordingly in some weeks when they worked overtime.

Police say the town did not calculate their wages correctly, failing to include shift differential, holiday differential, hazardous duty pay, fingerprint, photography and Breathalyzer pay, among others.

The town disagrees, saying a 24-day work cycle established in 1986 means police have to work 147 hours during that time before overtime kicks in.

Under the previous cycle, police "are much more likely to work five, six, seven days in a row" to surpass the time-and-a-half threshold, Petrini has previously said.

Only "real time worked," counts toward overtime under this system. That means vacation days, personal days and sick days don't count.

The First Circuit panel, consisting of judges Michael Boudin, Sandra Lynch, and Jeffrey Howard, took the matter under consideration. The court's decision could come down in six months to a year, Petrini said.

"The arguments are clear enough. I think it's a close case," Boudin said.

District court has already ruled in favor of the town, but the police officers are appealing that decision.

Police Chief Steven Carl and Deputy Chief Ken Ferguson attended the hearing.

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