City Awaits Appeal in Lawsuit With Police Union
In July, a judge ruled that the city must provide a collective bargaining framework for the Fraternal Order of Police.
The City of Chesterfield is awaiting an appeal against a St. Louis County judge's order that the city provide a framework for talks with a police union.
On July 15, St. Louis County Judge Colleen Dolan sided with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 15 in its lawsuit against the city and ruled that the city provide a framework for collective bargaining with the union, which seeks to represent officers from the Chesterfield Police Department.
"The officers are very discouraged that the city has taken this position," Gregory Kloeppel, an attorney for Lodge 15, said about the pending appeal.
The FOP argued in the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2008, that the city violated the rights granted to police officers by the Missouri Constitution to engage their employers in collective bargaining through union representation.
Kloeppel said union representation would give officers a seat at the table on issues of wages, benefits and working conditions.
"What Chesterfield is doing is putting up a roadblock to these talks," Kloeppel said.
Without union representation, Kloeppel said, the voice of Chesterfield police "will not be heard" on matters involving pay and working conditions.
Robert Heggie, the city attorney, said officers could already take any grievances directly to Chesterfield Police Chief Ray Johnson or City Administrator Michael Herring.
A police union, he said, would constitute an "extra layer" between the officers and the city that "we don't think needs to be there."
"We value our police officers," Heggie said. "We think they are the best officers in the country."
Citing low officer turnover, international accreditation for the department, "very competitive" wages and "hundreds of applicants" seeking to work for the department, Heggie said the department is a desirable place to work.
"We just don't see that officers are unhappy or have any complaints," Heggie said.
If the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals takes the case and Dolan's order is overturned, Kloeppel said, it would be a "big loss" not only for Chesterfield police, but also for public employees across the state.
The lawsuit came after a May 2007 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court that flipped 60 years of legal precedent in Missouri courts on its head.
In Independence – National Education Association v. Independence School District, the court handed down a ruling that strictly interpreted the constitutional provision granting collective bargaining rights to employees in Missouri, overturning a 1947 case in which the court ruled that constitutional rights regarding collective bargaining for Missouri employees do not to extend to public employees.
The Missouri Supreme Court said in the decision that collective bargaining by unions is "conceptually" similar to bargaining with employers over wage and employment conditions by individuals.
It also pointed out that, while employers should provide a framework for unions to engage with employers in collective bargaining, they are not obligated to submit to any union demands.
In an October 2007 letter to the city, the FOP cited the high court's decision when it requested that it set up a framework for labor talks with police.
Even though 53 officers and sergeants from Chesterfield's then-76-strong police force signed representation interest cards indicating that they sought representation under FOP, the city declined to recognize the union through an election.
After another failed request by the FOP for the city to recognize it as the legitimate representative for Chesterfield police, 68 officers and sergeants signed representation interest cards in February and March 2009.
In her judgment, Dolan ruled that the city's framework should formulate procedures for the election and certification of a union representative for Chesterfield police.
If the city is granted an appeal, the city is expected to argue that the representation interest cards were not authenticated, despite the fact that two officers and one sergeant testified that the signed cards were genuine, according to court documents.
The city is also expected to argue that, under the Missouri Constitution's separation of powers doctrine, the courts lack the power to force a municipality to adopt a framework to engage unions.
In August, St. Louis County Judge Barbara Wallace ruled in favor of the FOP in a similar lawsuit against the City of University City. Seventy-one percent of University City Police Department officers and sergeants signed representation interest cards, according to court documents.