Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thoughts on company cars

I know several people who are given company cars as part of their job. Most are in sales or customer service in one form or another. They use the cars as part of their day to day work, and then take them home and use them as a second family vehicle in the evening and on weekends. I haven't heard anyone say that their employer objects to this.

One of these friends has to pay a small amount for his company car. His employer has fallen on hard times, and in order to recoup some cash, asked their employees with company cars to kick in a little if they wanted to use them after hours. It's not free anymore, but it's significantly less than a car payment, insurance, and upkeep on a personally owned vehicle.

Recently, the Louisville Metro government has run into some fiscal problems. In order to cut some expenses, non-critical personnel have been forced to take days off, some programs have either been cut back or cancelled, and the mayor has asked that police officers who take their cruiser home pay a small fee for the privilege. The fees were $100 a month if the officer was just going to take the vehicle home and use it, or $160 a month if the officer was going to use the car to work for another employer. In the past, there was no charge for either case. The mayor may be trying to use these payments as a disincentive for the police to take their cruisers home, thereby saving on wear and tear on the vehicles and possibly to save gas.

Several police officers' children go to Girlie Bear's school. They use their cruisers to bring their kids to school in the morning and/or pick them up in the afternoon. I guess they have been using their cruiser as a second car. I have no problem with this. The more officers who drive their cruisers around at all times means more police visibility, and hopefully that is some deterrent to crime.

I have also seen other officers use their cruisers after hours at jobs, such as pulling security at an event or directing traffic for a church. Again, no problem, and for the same reasons. If a police officer can make a few extra bucks and make my community better doing it, good for him or her.

But the police union, and apparently the rank and file officers, have rejected the new requirement for a nominal payment. From what I can see, their main objection is paying anything at all for something they've always had for free, and a legal argument that the mayor is changing their work environment without proper notification.

I can see both sides in this, but I tend to come down with the city on this one. Yes, the police have been able to take their cars home at no cost in the past, and they do a public service just by being seen in them, but the Mayor is asking them to help out the city and try to cut costs. $100 or $160 a month is nothing compared to a car payment, insurance, and upkeep on a Crown Victoria. And it's not a permanent requirement. When things get better, I'm sure that the payment will be waived.

As for changing their work environment without proper notification, I have to ask if the use of a company car was part of the last police contract. If it's not, can the union argue that this is a change of work environment or benefits?

Come on guys, help out the city here. I respect the dangerous, boring, and hard work that y'all do in every environment and weather situation that Jefferson county can throw at you, but the money has to come from somewhere. Every other department in the county has taken some pretty deep cuts, and I'd rather see a side benefit like a company car get tougher for you than things like equipment and training for police officers get cut.

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