LAPD union sues the city, saying officers are owed three months' worth of raises

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 01: Los Angeles Police Headquarters located at First and Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles July 1, 2020 as Los Angeles City Council voted to cut hiring at the LAPD, pushing the number of sworn officers well below 10,000 and abandoning a budget priority once seen as untouchable by city leaders. LAPD Headquarters on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, pictured in 2020. The union that represents LAPD officers has sued the city over back pay it says is owed to its members. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

The union that represents rank-and-file officers in the Los Angeles Police Department filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the city Thursday, saying that pay increases approved by the City Council in August still have not arrived.

In the 10-page lawsuit, the Los Angeles Police Protective League said its nearly 9,000 members are owed more than three months' worth of raises and have been given no assurances about when that back pay will show up. Instead, City Controller Kenneth Mejia and City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo have blamed each other for the problems with the city's payroll system, the union said.

The council signed off three months ago on a four-year package of raises and benefits that, over the life of the agreement, is expected to add about $1 billion in salary costs to the LAPD. Raises and other financial incentives contained in the agreement were retroactive to July 16.

Tom Saggau, a spokesperson for the Police Protective League, said the union expected that its members would receive two weeks' worth of raises in their next paycheck, which goes out next week. At the same time, officers have begun reporting that certain bonuses are not being included in those checks, Saggau said.

Read more: L.A. City Council signs off on police raises amid warnings of financial risk

Union leaders have begun demanding that the city pay interest on the back pay that is due for the period between July 16 and Oct. 21. They also contend that the problems stem from the city's long-delayed effort to move its workforce into a new payroll system, known as Workday.

"We can't help but think there's some level of incompetence somewhere," Saggau said. "It ought to be found and fixed, before the rest of the city's workers suffer the way we are suffering now."

The lawsuit names both Szabo, the high-level budget official, and Mejia, whose office handles payroll, as defendants.

Rick Cole, the chief deputy controller, said in a statement that the city has "neither failed nor refused" to carry out the terms of the new police contract, which provides increases between 4% and 6% in each of the next four years, once retention pay is included. Implementing those changes has been a top priority not just for Mejia's office but also for the LAPD, the personnel department and other agencies, he said.

"We are diligently calculating the individual back pay for each of our ~8,800 sworn officers," , Cole said.

The issues surrounding the LAPD raises have gained the attention of City Councilmember Tim McOsker, a former lawyer for the police union who now heads the council's personnel committee. On Thursday, McOsker sent a letter to Szabo and Mejia saying there should have been "ample time" for the city to overcome any technological challenges to delivering the new raises.

In his letter, McOsker said he wants an explanation from Szabo's and Mejia's offices at his committee's next meeting.

"I believe it is of the utmost importance that all of our city employees be paid accurately and on time," he said.

Szabo, in an interview, said it's typical that after a new contract is negotiated, there is lag time before workers receive their back pay. Because the city is still making the transition from one payroll system to another, the provisions of the new police contract are being entered into both systems, he said.

As a result, the city is moving slowly to calculate what is owed to each officer to ensure that they are paid correctly, he said.

"We'd rather be deliberate, than fast and wrong," he said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.