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KPD union bid fails: Judge sees merit in some arguments, not enough

Of the Keizertimes

An effort by the Keizer Police Department’s sergeants to join the Keizer Police Association union was dismissed by an administrative law judge in late January. 

The dismissal follows two days of hearings on the matter that took place in 2018. (See related story Sergeants dispute.) However, the dismissal is not likely to be the end of the discussion, said Machell DePina, human resources director for the City of Keizer. Keizer’s police are a department of the city and thus work in conjunction with city staff policies and procedures. 

“The Keizer Police Association, via their attorney Daryl Garrettson, has filed an objection to the administrative law judge’s proposed order so this issue is still far from over,” DePina said. 

During the hearing, KPD’s sergeants contended that their roles do not amount to supervisory positions and are eligible for inclusion in the union. If they are successful in making the case, it could lead to a different pay schedule and less personal contribution to their healthcare plans. 

“If the sergeants were to become part of the bargaining unit, the city and Keizer Police Association would be obligated to bargain any change in compensation and other terms and conditions of employment (benefits, hours, etc.) with the association. The city would  conduct a salary survey to determine what compensation employees who perform similar duties for comparable agencies are earning,” DePina said.

For the time being, Administrative Law Judge Martin Kehoe has rejected the sergeants’ arguments overall but found merit in some aspects.

At the heart of the issue is whether the sergeants’ roles in the field, and not their actual job descriptions issued by the city human resources department, rise to the level of supervisory authority within Oregon Revised Statutes.  

According to statute, a supervisory employee is: “any individual having authority in the interest of the employer to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline other employees, or responsibly to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively recommend such action, if in connection therewith, the exercise of the authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature but requires the use of independent judgment.” 

While sergeants can decide who to place in special units of the department, which can result in higher pay, an “officer remains fundamentally an officer,” Kehoe concluded. On the other hand, sergeants oversee a wide variety of duties and independent authority, he added. 

The most common intervention initiated by sergeants is “coaching and counseling.” Keizer’s sergeants contended that it does not equate to supervisory action, Kehoe disagreed. 

Sergeants “can also make a formal record of it in an officer’s digital personnel file and warn that repeat offenses or failure to comply with the coaching and counseling will result in progressive discipline. Sergeants can also issue verbal or written reprimands and enter those into an employee’s record, with or without a superior’s permission,” Kehoe wrote in his decision. 

While it is common practice for sergeants to consult with superiors regarding coaching and counseling and other types of intervention for officers on their shifts and units, they have the authority to conduct such action without a superior’s input. 

Additionally, Kehoe cites the union’s collective bargaining agreement that recognizes a sergeant’s “responsibility to ensure that counseling and appropriate discipline occurs.” 

Kehoe ends the dismissal stating, sergeants can “assign, discipline, direct and effectively recommend the same with independent judgment … and that they exercise that authority in the interest of management.”