SAN JOSE -- Mark Hernandez suffered a litany of injuries when a car hit his police motorcycle: 10 broken ribs, a fractured scapula, a punctured lung and memory loss from a concussion.

However, one other loss was even more galling: The city cut his pay, by what would amount to $5,000 over the course of a year.

Hernandez was being paid extra for dangerous assignments, the city reasoned, and he wouldn't be performing such duties while he was recovering from the Nov. 15 accident.

"They're paying for us for a particularly hazardous duty, and when that hazard arises, we don't get paid anymore," said Hernandez, who has been with the San Jose Police Department since 1995. "I think it's completely ridiculous."

City officials counter that injured officers are entitled to as much as a full year of paid disability leave that's exempt from income tax on top of their medical care, offsetting the loss or even resulting in a salary increase over what is termed "premium pay."

"We do not want to imply insensitivity to employees who get injured on the job. A public-safety employee is paid full salary that's nontaxable, so they sometimes net more than when they were working," Deputy City Manager Alex Gurza said.

Hernandez is one of the first officers to experience the cut, which was authorized by an arbitrator this past summer.

San Jose police officers receive a 5 percent boost to their salaries if they take on what the department deems hazardous or specialized duties, such as riding motorcycles or serving on the MERGE (SWAT) unit.


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If it weren't for a newer model of motorcycle helmet Hernandez was wearing in the crash, the outcome could have been deadly, police said. To Hernandez and his colleagues, that comes with being a motorcycle officer: more vulnerability, more danger.

Once he was hurt, Hernandez was dismayed to see the pay bump disappear from his check.

The rule allowing the cut has been in place since last year's protracted police contract negotiations, against staunch opposition from the San Jose Police Officers' Association.

It stems from a 2012 city audit that found the city was paying $600,000 a year to police officers and firefighters who were getting the pay boost despite being off the job and collecting disability pay. The city auditor recommended discontinuing the practice, and it became part of contract negotiations, ultimately landing in the hands of an arbitrator.

For Hernandez, whether tax-free disability leave washes out the loss of the premium pay misses the point. The boost, he said, is also supposed to serve as an incentive to take on more dangerous roles in the department.

"That's the implication. The message is, 'If something happens, that's why we pay you the 5 percent,'" Hernandez said.

In his written dissent to the change, Sgt. Jim Unland, the union president, said, "The effect on officer morale, at a time when the city is purportedly trying to retain its officers, of proposals that will be seen as spiteful and politically motivated, should not be underestimated."

The argument failed to sway arbitrator John Flaherty, a retired judge, who wrote in his decision: "It is reasonable that an employee who is not actually performing these duties should not continue to receive the premium pay."

In the meantime, Hernandez is aiming for a February return to work, though he admits that will ultimately be up to his doctors. He's come a long way since the crash, considering that his recovery started with him waking up in a hospital room in a haze about what happened. His days are occupied by physical therapy and a healthy amount of television. He's steadily gained enough control over the pain to leave the house and run errands.

"On a daily basis, it's hanging out and doing minor housework," he said. "As much as I can do."

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.