Trooper Improperly Suspended For Engaging In Union Activity

Scott Nichols has been a trooper with the Michigan State Police (MSP) for 19 ½ years, and has been the representative for the Michigan State Police Troopers Association at the Lansing post. In 2007, the MSP was considering a reorganization plan that would have transferred part of Clinton County, Michigan away from the Lansing post. Nichols was critical of the plan.

At one point, Nichols gave a television interview while in civilian clothing. Although Nichols did not identify himself as a trooper, he was so identified in the newscast. Nichols also authored letters to various Township supervisors urging them to contact the MSP and ask that the plan not be implemented. Eventually, the Department proposed suspending Nichols for five days for his statements. The Association responded by filing an unfair labor practice complaint (ULP) under the terms of its collective bargaining agreement. The ULP complaint was heard by an arbitrator.

The Arbitrator ruled that Nichols was engaging in protected union activity, and could not be disciplined. The Arbitrator concluded that “at the time of the incident, Nichols was the Association’s Lansing post representative. In his television interview and in his letter to the supervisors, it is clear Mr. Nichols repeated the safety concerns he earlier expressed on behalf of the Association in an internal meeting. The president of the Association also related that the Association regarded the reorganization as a matter which affected working conditions and safety. Given that the reorganization was a matter of serious concern to the Association and that Nichols was the elected Lansing post representative for the Association, I conclude that his actions amounted to concerted activities.”

The Arbitrator also concluded that the MSP did not demonstrate a “legitimate substantial business justification” for proposing the discipline of Nichols. The Arbitrator held that “Nichols did not distort the truth about the actions taken by the MSP. Rather, Nichols gave his opinion on what would occur as a result of the reorganization. It also needs to be noted that in this case the comments by Nichols and the television interview were juxtaposed with comments with an MSP supervisor so the viewers had an awareness that a substantial difference of opinion existed as to the efficacy of the reorganization. The information which Nichols discussed and the television interview and letters to Township supervisors was not confidential information.

“I am mindful that the MSP has the need to operate without unwarranted distraction. In this case, Nichols may not have been correct in his assessment of the consequences of the reorganization. The fact that he may not have been entirely correct does not justify the proposed discipline.”

Michigan Department of State Police (Joseph Girolamo, 2009) (Unreported decision; copy available from LRIS).

This article appears in the March 2009 issue