Hawaii police union seeks 25% COVID-19 hazard pay differential

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The union for police officers in Hawaii has filed four separate grievances challenging the denial of hazard pay amounting to a 25% pay differential for the peak years of the COVID-19 pandemic between March 2020 and March of this year.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers filed the grievances against Honolulu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii counties.

For a starting metropolitan police officer in Honolulu who earns $71,656 a year, the temporary hazard pay would amount to $17,914 per year.

SHOPO declined to comment on the grievances, citing ongoing arbitration. According to SHOPO’s collective bargaining agreement, hazard pay has to be approved by the county’s human resources directors after the police chief makes a recommendation.

Honolulu’s Department of Human Resources maintains that hazard pay is already factored into officers’ base pay, unlike other county positions, from the moment they enter recruit school because of the inherent dangers of policing.

Gregg Okamoto, assistant chief of the Maui Police Department, declined to comment, citing the ongoing grievance. Hawaii and Kauai police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Honolulu, SHOPO’s grievance is being handled by retired state Judge Marie Milks, who is serving as the arbitrator in the case. Vladimir Devens and former HPD officer-turned-attorney Keani Alapa is handling the grievance for SHOPO. They did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Honolulu Corporation Counsel Dana Viola told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a statement that the city participated in SHOPO’s grievance of the city human resources director’s denial of the 25% pay differential the union is seeking across-the-board for all hours worked by all uniformed police officers during the two-year period from March 2020 to March of this year as temporary hazard pay.

“HPD and the City continue to express gratitude and respect to all officers who worked and continue to work in the COVID-19 ‘new normal’ but believe that a strong case was presented during the arbitration hearing that supports the denial of the grievance,” said Viola. “Because this matter remains pending, HPD and the City will respect the arbitral process and decline further public comment on this matter.”

During the two-year period in question, 721 HPD officers were sidelined after either being infected with COVID-19 or forced to isolate because of exposure, or while experiencing symptoms.

There is one documented incident of an officer contracting the virus from a suspect who tested positive for COVID-19.

Under SHOPO’s new contract, the starting annual pay for a Honolulu metropolitan police officer is $71,656, with new recruits beginning their training at HPD’s Ke Kula Makai Training Academy earning $68,934.

By fiscal year 2025, pay increases under the contract are expected to cost Oahu taxpayers more than $136 million. The first 5% pay raise is retroactive to July 1, with 5% increases every July 1 through 2024.

The previous starting salary for a rookie metropolitan police officer was $68,244 in base pay.

In 2024, under the agreement, officers also will receive a one-time, lump-sum bonus ranging from $1,800 to $2,000.

In addition to base pay, officers are paid a differential for working at night and receive overtime at 1.5 times the base hourly rate. There is a meal allowance for overtime work and a subsidized vehicle allowance for qualifying officers.

Police officers assigned to specific roles within the department may earn hazard pay. For example, officers receive an extra 25% of their base pay if their duties include operating a police motorcycle.

Officers also are eligible to work special-duty jobs such as providing security and traffic control, earning between $50 and $85 an hour.