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Imperial County Sheriffs Association Uses Concerted Labor Activity to Exert Pressure During Impasse PORAC LDF’S Coverage Deemed Instrumental by Association

Posted on Friday, December 01, 2006 at 12:00PM
Posted by Bradley M. Fields, Esq.

In a perfect world, law enforcement contract negotiations are conducted fairly, and appropriate compensation packages are offered by agencies and accepted by police employee associations. Unfortunately, such a world seldom exists. When it doesn’t, it is helpful to know that PORAC LDF is there to assist.

In 2004, the Imperial County Sheriffs’ Association (ICSA), which represents the sergeants, deputies, and other support staff of the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO), began to negotiate a successor Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). At that time, the ICSO was in an extreme crisis. Unfortunately, this crisis still exists. As of the writing of this article, the ICSO has approximately 14 vacancies out of its 32 patrol assignments.

This crisis is a direct result of the failure of Imperial County to provide competitive wages and benefits to its sworn employees. Most of the vacancies have resulted from employees leaving ICSO service for better compensation. While in the past, such vacancies were caused by employees leaving for better paying jobs in other geographic areas, many of the recent vacancies have resulted from employees leaving for other sworn positions within the Imperial Valley. Neighboring police agencies routinely offer pay in excess of $1200 more than sworn deputies make with the ICSO. In fact, many ICSO supervisors could make more money working in non-supervisory roles with other nearby agencies.

In its initial offer, and throughout negotiations, the county offered no more than token increases to its woefully inadequate existing compensation package. After becoming increasingly frustrated with the county’s failure to bring the compensation of ICSA members in line with neighboring police agencies, ICSA eventually declared impasse in its contract negotiations. Unfortunately, the county has no impasse procedures and the ICSA was put in a position where it had to go public with its criticisms of the county and with negotiations. That is when the ICSA turned to PORAC LDF.

Most PORAC members know that the PORAC Legal Defense Fund covers a variety of civil, criminal and administrative investigations of its members, depending upon the nature of the allegations and the scope of the coverage selected by the member’s association. What some members do not realize is that investigations arising out of labor activities are covered only when LDF affirmatively pre-authorizes such coverage for “concerted labor activities.” For further details of coverage for concerted labor activities, consult the LDF Plan Document, Article III, Section 9.

After hearing ICSA’s side of how negotiations led to impasse, and what the ICSA intended to do in impasse, the PORAC LDF trustees willingly extended coverage for ICSA’s concerted labor activities. In impasse, and with LDF support, the ICSA and its members began to appear at and to demonstrate at county Board of Supervisor’s meetings, to promulgate radio advertisements in the community, and to inform residents and businesses of the county’s actions. The LDF’s assistance was instrumental in affording the ICSA’s members the peace of mind that if the ICSO or the county attempted to investigate and/or discipline ICSA members, they would be provided LDF coverage.

Because of ICSA’s concerted labor activity actions, county provided a pay raise and benefit enhancements to all ICSA members, with no strings attached. As a result, the ICSA took negotiations out of impasse and intends to, once again, sit down and attempt to negotiate a successor MOU. Now, however, ICSA members’ compensation is at least slightly more competitive in the marketplace. For that, the ICSA and its members can thank PORAC LDF and the support of the LDF trustees.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bradley M. Fields is a partner in the law firm of Bobbitt, Pinckard, and Fields, APC, a Southern California law firm specializing in the administrative, labor, and criminal representation of law enforcement associations and their members. Fields has been with the firm for over 10 years and serves as the lead negotiator for the Imperial County Sheriffs Association.

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