WILKES-BARRE – A Luzerne County judge on Wednesday ruled changes Wilkes-Barre Township Mayor Carl Kuren made to the work schedules of township police officers will take affect April 8.
Judge Thomas Burke’s ruling came after a hearing in which the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Benevolent Association sought to have the schedule changes stopped, stating they are a violation of the union’s contract.
Attorney Richardson Todd Egan, who represents the union, called several police officers to testify about the hardships they would encounter if they were required to work the new schedule, which calls for every full-time officer to work within a “platoon” and work one of three different shifts every week.
Under Kuren’s proposal, the schedule changes would take effect April 8.
Lt. Charles Dyanick testified he and his soon-to-be ex-wife have a child custody arrangement, and he would be unable to see his children for “weeks at a time” under the new schedule.
Sgt. Tom Elick also testified and said he and his wife would have a problem getting their child to day care in the morning. Officer Mark Hampton said he suffers from type 2 diabetes and adheres to a strict medication schedule.
Officer James Reh testified he and his wife, officer Lee Ann Reh, who also works for the township, would work opposite shifts under the new schedule and have opposite days off, leaving them struggling to provide care for their children.
Union Vice President Robert Capparell said the 14 full-time officers currently work swing first and second shifts and specific officers permanently work a third shift. Officers can choose specific shifts to work by bidding on them. Shifts are then awarded by seniority.
Egan argued Kuren decided to make the schedule changes only after the union and township were unable to come to agreement on the union’s proposed contracts.
The officers’ contracts are currently in arbitration. A grievance was also filed in relation to the schedule changes.
Jack Dean, an attorney for the township, argued the union cannot “run to” the court system every time there is a dispute with a contract and that officers are already working around the clock.
Dean said there is nothing stopping officers from continuing to bid on shifts as outlined in their contracts.
“We don’t care who works what shift,” Dean said, “… as long as we have the protection of the citizens.”
Kuren testified he decided to make the schedule changes after no full-time officers worked on particular days and only part-timers were on the clock.
The problem with that, Kuren said, is that part-timers do not have access to a gun locker. Therefore, he said, a full-timer should be on every shift.
The new schedule changes, Kuren said, would allow for that and the safety of residents.
“My main concern is for the citizens and protection of the public,” Kuren said. “This way, there is always a full-time (officer) on duty.”
Burke said in his ruling the officers’ contracts of clearly state changes to scheduling may be made by the chief of police or the mayor.