An objection to a administrative rule judge finding that Keizer Police Department’s sergeants are supervisors – and therefore not eligible for union membership – was heard in front of all three members of the Employment Relations Board in March.
The hearing was a continuation of a request for union representation by Keizer’s six sergeants that was initially denied in January. The board members have not yet made a ruling on the objection.
Unlike hearings that unfurled over two days in 2018, the objection hearing involved only attorneys from both sides. Daryl S. Garrettson represented the union, the Keizer Police Association, and Kathy A. Peck represented the city of Keizer.
The Keizer Police Association contends that sergeants’ duties do not rise to the level of supervisory and therefore warrant inclusion in the union. The city asserts that sergeants act as supervisors and have been for at least two decades.
“The position of the Association is that in order to deprive the right of representation, the employer has the obligation to supply sufficient evidence (of supervisory status). The city produced exhibits that were years old,” Garrettson said.
Further Garrettson said KPD administrators employ a level of micromanagement that subverts sergeants’ authority. He said that when a traffic safety officer failed to produce traffic citations at the Keizer Police Department, the sergeant in charge of that unit wanted him removed and he was allowed to finished the two-year appointment to the role despite such wishes. Garrettson said the officer was given a ticket “quota” after failing to perform.
“[The sergeant] wrote up an extensive written warning. After that the chief said to give [the officer] another chance. The written warning was meaningless,” Garrettson said.
Peck countered that Garrettson only presented a portion of the story. When a new officer was assigned to the traffic unit, he reappointed the underproductive officer to the traffic unit against the advice of Police Chief John Teague. Those incidents occurred within the past two years.
Garrettson also cited another more recent example of sergeants being undercut. One officer, who was repeatedly warned about negative attitude, eventually lashed out at another officer by throwing a pair of dirty underwear at them. When the shift sergeant went to a lieutenant to begin disciplinary action, he was told a performance improvement plan should be drafted instead.
In addition to those examples, Garrettson said assigning duties based on workload or skill also doesn’t rise to supervisory action according to standards set by the National Labor Relations Board.
While some assignments are the result of personal initiative, Peck countered, “there are areas where we see greater authority exercised including factors like predictability, leadership, compatibility and leading the team.”
Moreover, Peck said all six sergeants signed off on city issued definitions of their roles when asked to do so and only one asked for a change – adding cadets to his list of supervisory duties.
Peck suggested that the situation KPD sergeants find themselves in might not be so much a lack of authority, but a culture where there isn’t cause to act on it with frequency or detrimental results.
“What you are facing is the difference between paper and reality. The reality is that authority is not exercised. They can assign the person to go home for being disruptive or safety concern, but there’s not a situation where they have to have done it,” Peck said.