Four-of-five Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors have been named in a federal lawsuit over allegations of intimidation and threats of retaliation after a petition drive helped repeal the board salary adjustment.
The lawsuit was filed January 20, in the United States District Court, Northern District of California. The lawsuit seeks actual damages and injunctive relief as well as punitive damages against the individually named members of the Board of Supervisors.
In the 12-page suit, the Deputy Sheriff Association (DSA) claims “ In retaliation for the DSA participating in the petition process, members of the Board of Supervisors delivered direct threats to retaliate against the DSA by undermining future collective bargaining efforts with the DSA”
The lawsuit claims of violations of the deputies’ constitutional free speech rights and a state law requiring public employers to bargain in good faith in employee contract negotiations.
The lawsuit, which named Supervisors John Gioia, Karen Mitchoff, Mary Piepho and Federal Glover, does not include Candace Andersen who voted against the raise. It also provides examples of statements made by Supervisors Mitchoff and Piepho which the union is perceiving as “retaliation” or “threats.”
On Page 5:
On December 11, 2014, former ASSOCIATION President Ken Westermann met with Defendant PIEPHO. Westermann wanted to explain why the ASSOCIATION was involved with the petition and referendum process. Westermann explained to Defendant PIEPHO that the ASSOCIATION was exercising its constitutional right of free speech and petition to express its opposition to the exorbitant pay increase the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors approved for itself. In response, Defendant PIEPHO told Westermann that the ASSOCIATION “made a bad decision and it is not going to end well for you guys.”
Westermann believed Defendant PIEPHO was threatening the ASSOCIATION with retaliation in an effort to dissuade the ASSOCIATION from continuing with the petition and referendum and to chill the ASSOCIATION’s exercise of protected speech in the future. Westermann asked Defendant PIEPHO what more she and the other Board members could do to make working conditions less attractive for the ASSOCIATION and its members. In a very dismissive tone Defendant PIEPHO said “we can always make it worse.”
On page 6: It claims Piepho made a statement about “Chuck Reed type pension reform” which is a reference to an alteration in pension and retirement benefits.
On page 6: it also highlights a conversation between Supervisor Mitchoff and Local 1230 President Vince Wells and another firefighter, Vito Impastato. The lawsuit alleges Mitchoff told Wells and Impastato to deliver a message to the Deputy Sheriffs Association
Defendant MITCHOFF told Wells to deliver a message to Westermann and the ASSOCIATION. The message was that the referendum sponsored by the ASSOCIATION to reverse the salary increase Defendants had granted to themselves was going to end badly for the ASSOCIATION. Defendant MITCHOFF said the supervisors would be “coming after” the ASSOCIATION in the next round of bargaining for terms and conditions of employment for the County employees represented by the ASSOCIATION. Defendant MITCHOFF stated that the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors would present their own referendum and reiterated Defendant PEIPHO’s threat, made during the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors’ meeting on December 16, 2014, to bring “Chuck Reed type pension reform” to Contra Costa County employees. Defendant PIEPHO was nodding her head in the affirmative, concurring with
Defendant MITCHOFF’s threat. Defendant MITCHOFF said she would gladly be the swing vote in support of such a referendum.
Wells asked Defendant MITCHOFF if the Defendants would voluntarily rescind their salary raise if the ASSOCIATION was able to pull the signatures supporting the petition. Defendant MITCHOFF scoffed and said, “No. That would be extortion.” Wells replied, “Well, isn’t that what you are threatening to do to them?” Defendant MITCHOFF responded that the Firefighters and other labor unions could become collateral damage in this fight and that the Firefighters needed to convince the ASSOCIATION to stop the petition and referendum. Wells regarded Defendant MITCHOFF’s statement as a threat against Local 1230.
On Page 7: it highlights a phone conversation between Supervisor Mitchoff and Jim Bickert, the ASSOCIATION’s retained labor representative.
Bickert telephoned Defendant MITCHOFF on the evening of December 19, 2014, and spoke to her for over an hour about her conversation with Wells. Defendant MITCHOFF repeated her threats of retribution many times, including mention of “Chuck Reed type” pension reform. When asked how she would vote on such “reform” if the ASSOCIATION withdrew the signatures supporting the referendum, Defendant MITCHOFF replied that she would “probably vote against it.” Defendant MITCHOFF told Bickert there would be ramifications for the ASSOCIATION pushing the referendum to rescind Defendants’ salary raise and it would ruin the next labor negotiations. Defendant MITCHOFF said human nature says there will be negative ramifications for the ASSOCIATION as a result of this action. Defendant MITCHOFF said the county supervisors are all on board with her threats and would not change their minds. Defendant MITCHOFF also said the ASSOCIATION is “stupid” if they think the petition to place the referendum on the ballot would turn out well for them. Defendant MITCHOFF added that the county supervisors were previously committed to increasing compensation for the county employees represented by the ASSOCIATION, but as a result of the referendum, the ASSOCATION and its members would not receive what they would have gotten. Defendant MITCHOFF said she has nothing to lose by “coming after” the ASSOCIATION, adding, “I’m only going to be around for the next four or eight years. But the DSA is going to suffer for many years to come.”
Although named in the lawsuit, no attributions were provided of incidents involving Supervisor Gioia or Glvoer.
Here is the press release from the Deputy Sheriffs Association via Rains Lucia Stern:
Contra Costa Deputies file federal lawsuit over intimidation and threats of retaliation by members of the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.
On behalf of the Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association, Rains Lucia Stern attorneys Timothy Talbot and Zachery Lopes filed a federal lawsuit against the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.
The lawsuit was filed today, January 20, in the United States District Court, Northern District of California.
The lawsuit seeks actual damages and injunctive relief as well as punitive damages against the individually named members of the Board of Supervisors.
On October 28, 2014, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to give themselves a 33% pay increase with a formula for future increases. Viewing that raise as being egregious, and unfair to all County employees, the Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association (DSA), along with other county labor groups, participated in a petition campaign to place an initiative on the ballot that would allow voters to determine pay increases for the Supervisors. The petition drive was exceedingly successful, gathering nearly 40,000 signatures by the end of December.
In response to the public’s overwhelming support for the petition, on January 13, 2015 the Board of Supervisors began the process to rescind the raise they had approved for themselves.
In retaliation for the DSA participating in the petition process, members of the Board of Supervisors delivered direct threats to retaliate against the DSA by undermining future collective bargaining efforts with the DSA.
Shawn Welch, President of the DSA stated that:
- “Government employees do not give up their 1st amendment rights just because they are government employees. Public employers cannot threaten to compromise their legal duty to bargain in good faith and put communities at risk when citizen/employees exercise their right to speak against the excesses of governmental waste and bad policies.”
- “It is an outrageous abuse of power for elected officials to threaten and attack the very employees sworn to protect our communities solely because those politicians want to fatten their paychecks.”
- “The DSA will not stand idly by and suffer the loss of civil rights and collective bargaining rights through threats and intimidation by politicians who believe their economic self-interest is more important than their employees’ constitutional and statutory rights.”
Rains Lucia Stern, PC, with offices in Pleasant Hill, Fresno, San Francisco, Ontario, Sacramento, San Jose and Santa Rosa, specializes in defending public safety employees.
Here is a PDF copy of the lawsuit: CCCDSA Complaint File Endorsed