It’s safe to say that when Contra Costa County Board of Supervisor Karen Mitchoff stated that damage has been done between labor unions and the Board, she was foreshadowing a rocky future between the two parties.
Shortly after those comments were made, four-of-five County Board of Supervisors (Gioia, Glover, Mitchoff, Pipeho) were named in a lawsuit by the Deputy Sheriffs Association (DSA) highlighting that the Supervisors threatened them, took away their right to free speech, and that civil rights were violated.
The lawsuit comes after the DSA and other unions led a referendum campaign netting nearly 40,000 signatures to stop a salary adjustment of 33% by the Board of Supervisors. The DSA is now claiming the Supervisors are retaliating against this effort.
With these new accusations, it adds yet another black eye to the Supervisors record as the unions try to control the message when it comes to public opinion.
If anything, the public should realize that suing four-of-five Supervisors is a form of retaliation for bringing up the words “Chuck Reed Pension Reform”. Simply put, Chuck Reed is code word for pension reform and putting the idea in the hands of the voters.
For those unfamiliar with Chuck Reed, he is the San Jose Mayor who helped place Measure B in San Jose on the 2012 ballot which called for city workers to pay more into their pension plans, gave the City Council the right to suspend cost of living increases in a fiscal emergency and required a city-wide vote before retirement benefits could be increased. It passed with 69 percent of the vote.
What is silly about this lawsuit (click here) is that the DSA is not in labor negotiations for 16-months. So when I hear the idea of “greed” come up, it is for positiong to sway public opinion because when negotiating, everything is on the table at the start. When negotiations proceed, items are accepted, removed, or mediated out.
This claim of greed is rather silly because it appears the DSA cannot wait 16-months to see what potential increase or decrease may occur. It appears the union is either frightened or offended by the idea of Chuck Reed even being brought up.
Lets admit it, the DSA is afraid of the public getting a say. They prefer the public believe its a naughty word that neither Supervisors Mary Piepho nor Karen Mitchoff are allowed to discuss.
Regrettably for the DSA and regardless of the context the threats being made, it’s simply an idea at this point and not a threat. Although, I have to admit, the DSA is smart in removing the discussion from pension reform and focusing on Supervisor salary adjustments—basically, distracting the public from the larger issue facing the county.
What the public needs to understand is that once the law removed pension spiking, its no secret the DSA instead wanted compensation in return. So should pension reform end up going to a public vote, it scares the DSA just by uttering the name Chuck Reed.
The Supervisors may want to discuss the idea of Chuck Reed pension reform, it doesn’t mean they will move forward with it—in our opinion, it’s actually a very bad idea. That said, it certainly does not justify a lawsuit.
At the heart of this lawsuit, it appears the DSA is afraid the public will take this idea and begin petition to try and implement pension reform through a ballot initiative. Highly unlikely, but the DSA anger should be directed at Chuck Reed, not the Board of Supervisors. Furthermore, the idea of Chuck Reed is nothing new as last March, the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association had Chuck Reed as a guest speaker—so it’s not out of context for a Supervisor to bring his name up.
In reading the lawsuit, it this is nothing more than hearsay discussions taken out of context. The accusations hold little merit and the idea of free speech being taken away is rather silly.
If you recall, over the past several months, DSA leadership, as well as other unions, have had plenty to say without Supervisors intervening both during a public forum and to various news media. If anything, the unions didn’t know when to pipe on the verbal assaults because common sense says there will be some response at some point which may put DSA leadership in an awkward position with its members for playing poor politics.
As for the threats, the old saying goes actions speak louder than words and in the game of politics; there is an awful lot of chatter, not enough action.
In this lawsuit, which was published Wednesday on this website:
- ASSOCIATION President Ken Westermann met with Supervisor PIEPHO where he says he told her the ASSOCIATION “made a bad decision and it is not going to end well for you guys.” The suit further says Piepho said in a dismissive tone that “we can always make it worse.”
At best, this can be interpreted a thousand different ways. Did Piepho really speak in a “dismissive tone” or did Westermann take it as such? Ultimately, who cares if the tone was dismissive. What really matters is at this time, can Mr. Westermann prove any damage has been done? No, because they are not in negotiations.
I am curious what action has the Board of Supervisors taken to hurt the DSA? As of Friday, the answer is nothing. There has to be an action for there to be damages.
With regards to Supervisor Karen Mithcoff, the association uses a hearsay conversation from Local1230 President Vince Wells who is in another union. They accuse Mitchoff of requesting firefighters to deliver a message to the DSA that because of the referendum sponsored by the Association, it would end badly for them in the next round of negotiations.
- 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.
In speaking to Vince Wells of Local 1230 Thursday, he stated he was asked to deliver a message, but refused to write a statement for the DSA lawsuit. He explained he is only going to participate if it goes to court and he is subpoenaed.
The game of “telephone” comes to mind here. You have people repeating something to others and the message gets lost in the translation. The end result is a lawsuit.
We can only assume the context of the comments were slurred at various stages as phone calls were made. With regards to both sides, I encourage them to stop acting like high school children and act like adults and simply communicate and talk out their issues. They will all be better for it and relationships can be rebuilt.
Like it or not, Mitchoff has every right to reference a statement made by another Supervisor or express a pension idea. It’s neither a threat nor against the law. In the end, if the Board of Supervisors want to go forward, they have the luxury of needing just 3-votes for a ballot initiative, whereas everyone else needs 25,000 signatures to put an idea on the ballot.
Ironically, this fear over “Chuck Reed reform” has never been discussed in public nor has it been placed on any agenda. Is the DSA afraid that through public discussions that the public might figure out this action may actually save the county money. The DSA can’t have that because this ride of public support they currently enjoy would begin to disintegrate.
Fortunately for the DSA, and all unions, should the idea of Chuck Reed’s pension reform be brought forward as an actual legislation after much discussion, we would support them in rejecting the idea based on the consequences it would cause countywide to public safety.
Overall, the lawsuit is weak, petty, and a waste of money which is where the public should focus, not their hatred of the Board of Supervisors.
The DSA should have the forward thinking and experience in law enforcement of finding common ground through communication; instead, the DSA leadership apparently prefers a temper tantrum which does their members a disservice.
During the recent petition drive, unions spent a lot of money to prevent a pay raise which averaged under 4% each year–if average over the last decade. Instead of cutting their losses, the DSA leadership would prefer to attempt to save face to its members by continuing to throw stones as if they believe they have nothing left to lose—note to DSA, this is not your version of “Custers Last Stand”.
A last stand actually comes if the Board of Supervisors begins to take away pay or benefits while other employee unions in the county are seeing rewards of an improved economy. To get to “Custers Last Stand”, it actually has to happen via a Board vote, currently, the DSA is making assumptions of what may occur 16-months from now.
The root of all this is the DSA is taking a few statements and turning it into a threat.
Amazingly, this lawsuit was low hanging fruit and the union took full advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge with regards to labor negotiations. The union has the public focused on retaliation when this is just single snap shot in real of film.
Ironically, the DSA should know better that when it comes to hearsay arguments holding up in court. This publicity stunt is aimed at bullying the Board to put legislation on hold—this is not a good way to build bridges.
This lawsuit, as silly as it is, still does not change our opinion deputy sheriffs are underpaid and deserve much more, but we question what is wrong with a 4% on average per year increase since the last raise? Yes, it adds up to nearly 33% when you make the jump at one time, but it’s not unreasonable spread over 8-years.
The supervisors who go through the salary adjustment process ultimately pay the price at no fault of their own due to a ballot initiative put in place by the public more than 20-years ago.
I can only assume that 16-months from now the DSA will gladly accept much less than a 4% increase for their members. Since they are throwing a fit at 4% annually, maybe 1% or 2% annually would satisfy union leadership.
This lawsuit is not about the Supervisor salary, threats, freedom of speech or civil rights; rather it’s about positioning the DSA for 16-months from now when negotiations open up. It’s about putting the Supervisors under a microscope and trying to remove four of them from office in the next two election cycles so they can strike a better union deal in the future.
The Deputy Sheriffs Association may be going for public empathy, but expect no sympathy from the Board of Supervisors at the bargaining table.
By Mike Burkholder