Mountlake Terrace found guilty of labor law violations
Having already suffered a number of legal setbacks involving employment law violations, the City of Mountlake Terrace was cited Friday by the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).
According to documents released by Cline & Associates, a Seattle law firm representing the Mountlake Terrace Police Guild: The decision released by PERC Hearing Examiner Robin Romeo found that Police Chief Greg Wilson committed a number of unfair labor practices by retaliating against and refusing to negotiate with the Mountlake Terrace Police Guild. http://perc.wa.gov/databases/ULP/11702.htm.
Romeo’s decision found that Wilson acted unlawfully by unilaterally withholding pay from officers, making changes in discipline procedures, installing surveillance cameras in the police department, refusing to discuss the surveillance system with the guild, refusing to allow guild representatives to speak at discipline hearings, and refusing to communicate with the guild’s legal counsel over pending representation issues.
Romeo’s decision is appealable to the PERC Commissioners within 30 days.
Guild President Dan MacKenzie expressed mixed feelings over the decision. “I wish the Mountlake Terrace Police Officers and our guild did not have to be involved in all these fights with the city in order to have our basic labor and employment law rights recognized.
“The city is creating unnecessary conflict and, quite frankly, it’s a huge distraction from what we should be doing, which is providing outstanding police services to our citizens. It’s even caused us to lose some exceptional officers in the process – officers who, had their rights been acknowledged from the beginning, may otherwise still be protecting and serving the city.
“We just want to be treated fairly. On the other hand, this decision, along with some of the city’s other recent legal setbacks, might force the police department and the city to reevaluate how they are approaching things.”
MacKenzie noted that the guild has two other unfair labor practice complaints pending with PERC that are awaiting a decision.
Guild attorney Jim Cline of Cline & Associates in Seattle expressed his dismay with Mountlake Terrace managers.
“Right now, the City of Mountlake Terrace may be the most dysfunctional municipality in the State of Washington.” Cline called the PERC ruling “unsurprising,” explaining that Police Chief Greg Wilson “ignored basic labor law requirements and trampled all over the officers’ rights. He knew better and so does the city, yet they keep doing these things over and over again.”
Cline referenced other recent problems involving the city and its police department. Since Chief Wilson’s arrival, the city:
(1) was forced to settle a large retaliation lawsuit after losing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020312489_mountlakesettlementxml.html;
(2) was forced to provide Sergeant Mark Connor nearly a year and a half of front wages after he presented a wrongful discharge grievance; and
(3) was found to have wrongfully discharged Officer Tam Guthrie and ordered to reinstate him with back wages. http://www.washingtonlaborandemploymentblog.com/2013/02/19/mountlake-terrace-officers-termination-overturned-arbitrator-awards-reinstatement-and-back-pay/.
The City of Mountlake Terrace has two other pending unfair labor practice complaints involving numerous allegations of unlawful unilateral changes and retaliation against the guild.
More information regarding the city’s ongoing legal problems is described on the Washington Labor and Employment Law Blog: http://www.washingtonlaborandemploymentblog.com/2013/03/22/legal-woes-continue-to-plague-mountlake-terrace-police-department/.
Cline indicated the guild also has a pending public records request regarding the city’s communications with its insurance company.
“Were not convinced the city’s insurance company knows about this ongoing unlawful behavior and liability exposure, and they certainly should,” Cline said. “I think the insurance company would force some changes on the city if all this was disclosed to it.”
Cline explained that the City of Pacific last year almost lost its insurance coverage for a similar pattern of repeated labor and employment law violations.
“The City can only keep this up for so long before the insurance company tells it ‘you have to stop this or we will drop your coverage,’” he said. “If the city manager and the police chief don’t stop all this, the city council is going to have to intervene or this will end up costing the taxpayers yet more dearly than they have already paid.”
Cline further explained that the guild has not been satisfied with the city’s response to its public records request thus far.
“We’ve withheld filing a lawsuit on our request records so far, but we’re going to continue to press them on this,” he said. “We suspect they haven’t fully briefed their insurance company on some of these labor law problems, and if the insurance company knew about all this, they’d be pressing the city for reforms just as they pressed the city of Pacific for changes.”