South Miami

South Miami

Ex-South Miami cop says city failed to pay for time getting ready for work

 

Special to the Miami Herald

Michael Weissberg, a former sergeant in the South Miami Police Department is suing the city, seeking overtime wages for which he says he was not paid.

Weissberg filed the federal lawsuit on Oct. 25, but the City Commission agreed this month to hire outside lawyers to fight it.

Weissberg, 41, was hired on Jan. 24, 2005, and resigned March 23, 2013. In his complaint, Weissberg states he was “required to work approximately 30 minutes off-the-clock ... for activities he performed at the City of South Miami Police Department prior to Roll Call.”

According to Weissberg, these activities included putting on and taking off his uniform, maintaining his weapon, maintaining his police car, and cleaning/maintaining his work uniform.

The complaint states that Weissberg worked 5-10 overtime hours per week for which he was not paid. Weissberg seeks back pay of overtime wages for all overtime hours worked, plus an equal amount as penalty and all attorneys’ fees and costs. Weissberg said he never went before the commission with his concerns.

“The sergeants had gone to (former Police Chief) Orlando Martinez de Castro in the past, before I was promoted,” said Weissberg, who served as an officer and detective before becoming a sergeant. “And they had asked to get comp time because we all had to go in early in order to do the litany of things that we had to do to get ready for the shift.”

Weissberg said it took about 20 minutes just to equip himself in 35 pounds of body armor and gear.

“At this point the city is going to oppose it obviously,” said Mayor Phillip Stoddard, who learned about the lawsuit on Nov. 13. “These are items that are normally considered to be something an officer does on their own time. The city, for instance, allows a police officer to take their car home as part of their contract. The city provides them with uniforms as part of their contract. But there is a certain set of maintenance items that are expected that the officers will do themselves.”

The city approved a resolution last week for City Manager Steven Alexander to enter an agreement with labor attorney Damian H. Albert and his firm, to represent the city in the case.

The South Miami Police Department has 50 officers.

“They do maintenance on the car, keep it clean, and do oil changes in exchange for getting to take the car home,” Stoddard said. “We provide them with the uniform. It’s expected that the officers will get themselves dressed and undressed and care for their uniforms on their own time. That’s not just our department, that’s typical of all police departments.”

“I’ve never heard of such a suit,” Stoddard said. “My understanding is that there is some case law that runs contrary to this.”

Stoddard said that the city chose to hire a labor attorney because it “is a case with far-reaching consequences,” citing that it could set precedent for “any uniformed employees, anywhere.”

“The concern with a case like this goes beyond the individual case,” Stoddard said. “This is a case that can have very wide sweeping implications.

But Weissberg, who says the city owes him more than $17,000 in unpaid overtime, said the city expected him to work without pay before his shift started.

“Roll call is supposed to start on time,” Weissberg. “It took anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes to get ready for the shift. It would be physically impossible to show up at 2 p.m. for a 2 p.m. roll call and be able to do all the steps.”

Weissberg became a police officer in 1997.

“I was Officer of the Year three different times in three different organizations,” Weissberg said. “I received the chief’s award from the city of South Miami. I’m not a slacker. I’m not a complainer or somebody who couldn’t hack it. It’s unfortunate that because of the way I was treated, I had to walk out of there and file a lawsuit.

“In the end it got to the point where I could just let them keep going the way they were going without taking a stand,” Weissberg said. “It bothers me that I had to walk away from my job. They have decided that they don’t have to follow the law.”

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