No Unfair Labor Practice When Police Chief Posts Bulletin Board Response To Union

The Town of Hampton, New Hampshire has a collective bargaining agreement with the Hampton Police Association. The president of the Union, Officer Steven Henderson, using the Department’s official e-mail system, distributed an e-mail addressing an article about a bargaining session which had been published in a local newspaper. The bargaining concerned whether members of the Department would be allowed to work private details and, if so, at what rate they would be paid.

Henderson’s e-mail stated in part: “The inaccuracy in the article had been noted. The $2 quote was an outright lie. A part-time officer gets $29 currently; $22 was proposed. The difference is $7. A sergeant can get up to $40 an hour, proposal $27. The difference would be $13. The real issue is liability insurance, workers’ compensation. Who takes care of your family or you if you are injured on duty. God forbid someone was killed.”

The following day, William Wrenn, the Police Chief, posted a response to Henderson’s e-mail on the Department’s official bulletin board. The response, which was addressed to “all Hampton police officers,” stated in part: “I’m writing to you to correct the misinformation that you were given by Patrolman Henderson regarding the private detail proposal that would have addressed the private detail problem. A local businessman came up with a plan that would have paid all officers $27 per hour for working details. He would have made all necessary deductions and would pay all the insurances including workers’ compensation and liability insurance. This is the proposal the Town made to your Union’s representatives. It was rejected by them.”

The Association then filed a complaint with New Hampshire’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board, alleging that Wrenn’s memorandum constituted the unfair labor practice of “direct dealing.” Under most collective bargaining laws, a public employer must refrain from negotiating with any Union member who is not designated as an exclusive representative. Direct dealing is generally forbidden because it is thought to compromise the negotiating process and frustrate the purpose of collective bargaining laws.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that Wrenn’s memorandum did not constitute direct dealing. The Court concluded that “Wrenn composed and posted his letter in response to arguably inflammatory and allegedly inaccurate comments that Henderson had disseminated through the Department. Moreover, his letter pertained not to ongoing or future negotiations between the Town and the Union, but rather, failed past negotiations.”

Town of Hampton, 2006 WL 2422575 (N.H. 2006).

This article appears in the October 2006 issue