Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Friday, September 08, 2006

Labor Pains

As the summer winds down, so typically does contract negotiations between the city government and the various bargaining units and labor unions which together represent the majority of the city's employees.

Not this summer.

This biennial mating ritual occurs between two entities, labor and management, with each trying to get what they want while telling the other side what they need. Most often, they come to agreement, but it only happens after weeks of pushing, conceding, advancing and retreating and more than a little bit of bluffing. But in the end, it is all about compromising and making sure that during this game of tug 'o war, you dropped fewer of your players in the river than the other side did.

While several of the city's unions, most notably the SEIU and the Firefighter's Association, have pretty much ironed out their labor contracts for the next two years, two of the city's other unions have headed to Riverside County Superior Court to initiate the next round of the negotiation process there. Both of these unions happen to represent sworn employees in the Riverside Police Department.

The SEIU was able to upset the city management's apple cart during its lockout, by calling for a vote among its members to strike. Not that this would actually happen, it was done to show that it could happen and it worked. City Manager Brad Hudson blinked.

The police unions do not have this same option. If they tried to exercise it, they would find out soon enough that while this city's residents might claim they support their police officers, that is pretty much only if they are willing to drop everything to respond to their calls for service. The minute that this is threatened, the verbal tomatoes will start flying. Traditionally, "blue flus", work stoppages and threatened strike votes have been met with not only a lack of sympathy for the involved officers, but hostility and resentment towards them as well. But after watching the SEIU use a similar tactic successfully against the city, it's only human nature to at least think about it.

So when negotiations reach a stalemate or even break down, seeking remedies through the court system is one option available to them.

Historically, negotiations with these two associations take longer to reach fruition than those involving the others. The RPOA is usually the last one to seal the deal, often after the leaves of autumn have left the city's trees bare. From the beginning, it looked like this year would be no different despite claims by one unidentified individual here that by July, the city of Riverside would throw a huge raise at its sworn officers to, as stated, stem the alleged departure of the department's least seasoned officers. However, given the history, this was very unlikely to happen and was most likely, wishful thinking at best.

In fact, it did not take very long for the two unions and the city to run into a stalemate. In response, both unions headed off to court. Not to divorce court, but to the old civil courthouse, less than a block away from City Hall. The same courthouse that has been portrayed in films such as Time Machine and Moonlight Mile actually arbitrates civil cases on a daily basis, despite having undergone two major renovations in the past six years.

The Riverside Police Administrators Association set its court date with management first, by filing its miscellaneous petition on July 18, 2006. At that point, its courtship with the city was officially off. Its leader, Lt. Darryl Hurt had tried to voice concerns raised by his union of approximately 25 lieutenants and captains at a city council meeting during the public comment forum, but was cut off mid-paragraph by Mayor Ron Loveridge who told him he had to table his speech until the budgetary item was heard on the discussion calendar. Some felt that the real problem was that every chair in the city council chambers had been filled and that the city council was self-conscious about the labor unions airing their grievances to such a large audience, so they were hoping to clear most of those people out before the discussion calendar was heard.

The 43-page document filed by the RPAA alleged that the city had violated conditions set forth in a prior agreement from 2004.

That year, the city and RPAA had come to an agreement regarding changes in wages, hours worked and other conditions in connection with other terms of employment involving those covered by the RPAA from 2003 to 2010. Under a “me too” entitlement, the members of the RPAA were to receive salary and fringe benefit increases at least equal to those of the RPOA. The RPAA included a MOU filed in 2000 to back up its claim. However, that agreement had expired one year before its contract was renegotiated two years ago.

The members of the RPAA were most concerned that their benefits maintained a specific percentage difference above those who belonged to the “highest subordinate class” outside their unit, which were the sergeants, who were represented by the RPOA under an agreement with that union. So, it was not just a situation of “me too” but “I want more than he’s got”, a philosophy that is not uncommon in situations where a rigid hierarchal structure is in place.

The law suit alleged that in 2004, the sergeants had received fringe benefits that were better than those received by the RPAA members. The RPAA had asked to either receive the same benefits or ones that were comparable to the ones the sergeants had received. The city refused to do so.

On July 15, 2005, the RPAA had issued a letter to the Human Resources Department stating that the city had failed to provide the benefits that it had “truly intended to” under the 2004 MOU. Nine months later, the attorneys for both sides began to exchange letters explaining their positions on the matter.

Now they will be doing so, in court. The city filed its response to the RPAA legal action on Aug. 31, and alleged that the whole thing should be dropped because the RPAA failed to follow the proper guidelines of the tort law they were filing their complaint under. The city also argued that the RPAA had failed to prove its allegations or prove what the city’s intention had been. Both sides will face off on Nov. 9, 2006 in the old historic courthouse. Be there or be square.

During that time period, they might bump into some familar people in the courthouse, those representing the RPOA.

The law suit filed by the RPAA would not be the only one to hit the books this summer.

The RPOA soon followed suit by filing its own writ of mandamus in the same courthouse, less than a year after settling their prior civil action involving the department's officer involved shooting investigation policy. In its law suit, the RPOA, through its attorney, alleged that the city had violated the "good faith" negotiations by divulging information about the RPOA negotiations to leaders of other city unions in order to get them to accept its terms concerning health benefits. The city had promised the leaders of both the SEIU and the Firefighters' Unit that the RPOA would not be offered a better deal on health benefits than these two unions would receive, as a means of getting both unions to agree to their proposed contracts. The two unions had expressed concerns that like had happened in the past, the RPOA would be offered a better deal in terms of these benefits.

According to the law suit, the city had sealed its employee contract with the Fire Unit by promising its members that the benefits received by members of the RPOA would not be greater than those given to firefighters. In response, the Fire Unit entered into a tentative agreement. A similar situation was alleged to have take place while the city was negotiating with the SEIU, which is the city’s largest bargaining unit.

The central concern in the negotiations for all the bargaining units and unions was that the city had refused to pay more than $25 per month per employee into the employees’ health insurance premiums over the term of the new contract. The city’s strategy was to soothe their concerns by claiming that every union, even the RPOA which traditionally had received the highest contributions by the city towards its health insurance, were in the same boat. This was apparently enough to alleviate the concerns of several of the city’s bargaining units, but according to the law suit, it left the RPOA believing that the city had violated their “good faith” bargaining arrangement because the city was making these promises to other unions while still in active negotiations with the RPOA.

So the RPOA filed a law suit at the old historic courthouse on Sept. 5. The city has yet to respond with legal paperwork of its own. No court date has been set as of yet.

In the spirit of our most recent legal holiday, these developments are a reminder of why the existence of labor unions is so important in this country. Even the profession which historically during the earliest years of the 20th century had functioned as “muscle” to break up usually forcefully, labor demonstrations, rallies, strikes and union gatherings and meetings(which were actually illegal at the time) has now embraced them and the process. For everything, there clearly is a season and in this case, that's the truth.

Court Cases

Riverside Police Officers Association v the City of Riverside

Riverside Police Administrators Association v the City of Riverside

Riverside County Superior Court public access

(This site allows cases and pdf documents to be accessed. There's also instructions for how to access it if you have a firewall on your computer. )


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