Police union accuses Arroyo Grande of retaliation during contract negotiations

Officers’ association alleges that the city retaliated after the group hired a lawyer for contract talks

clambert@thetribunenews.comJanuary 6, 2013 

Arroyo Grande Police Station.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association has filed an unfair practice charge against the city for allegedly retaliating against the union over its decision to hire an attorney to represent it during contract negotiations.

Arroyo Grande’s city manager countered this week that the union’s move is only an “aggressive negotiating tactic.”

The police officers’ association alleges that city officials said they would seek harsher concessions should the union use an attorney and later followed through with the threat by demanding a 3.5 percent pay cut for association members.

“This action by the city, demanding greater and more severe concessions from the AGPOA, was done to retaliate against the association and its members for exercising their rights,” according to the charge, which was filed with the state Public Employment Relations Board on Dec. 20. “Simply, the association was punished for its choice of being represented during the negotiation process.”

The charge accuses Arroyo Grande officials of violating sections of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, which governs labor-management relations in California local government.

Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the specific items in the charge because the city remains in labor negotiations with the union, but he said “the charge is unfounded and part of some very aggressive negotiating tactics.”

“When PERB investigates this charge, we are confident it will be dismissed,” Adams added. “The city appreciates the important work performed by our outstanding police department, and we are committed to treating all our employees fairly given the constraints the city is facing due to existing budget challenges.”

This year’s budget assumed cost savings from concessions made by three employee groups: the police union, employees represented by Service Employees International Union, and management employees, who are not represented.

The groups were each asked to agree to a specific amount of cuts based upon the groups’ total payroll costs to the city’s general fund, Adams said. Management-level employees and those with SEIU each agreed to pay more toward their pensions, pay increased costs for medical benefits, and to take three furlough days, among other concessions.

He declined to say how much of a cut the police officers’ association, which represents 29 employees, was asked to take.

The city and the police officers’ association started meeting in June to negotiate a memorandum of understanding over wages, hours and other conditions of employment.

At that time, former police officers’ association President Shane Day talked to Adams and told him the union had retained an attorney from the Upland-based firm of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir to act as its bargaining representative.

Adams, according to the charge, then asked Day to have the union consider not being represented by an attorney during negotiations.

Adams purportedly told Day that he planned to have the city’s management staff take “a large amount of the hit” in pay cuts — but if the union used its attorney, the city would demand more severe concessions.

The 3.5 percent pay cut was not discussed or contemplated until the union notified the city that it would be represented by counsel, according to the charge.

The city’s subsequent actions, the union charges, were intended to discriminate against it, and “it is believed that other bargaining units choosing to negotiate without counsel were spared such drastic demanded concessions and treatment.”

Day could not be reached for additional comment this week, nor could an attorney with the law firm.

The union is asking the Public Employment Relations Board to issue Arroyo Grande a “cease and desist” order, stop the city from implementing the pay cut and order it to reimburse the union for all attorney’s fees and costs.

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