Luis Santiago is the president of the City of Bridgetown, New Jersey Police Benevolent Association (PBA). Santiago initiated a grievance and presented it to Police Chief Mark Ott. The grievance alleged that there was questionable conduct within the internal affairs bureau. Ott then ordered Santiago to provide a special report that included the names of the police officers who approached him with allegations about the alleged questionable conduct. In addition to ordering Santiago to file a report, Ott denied the grievance at his level. Santiago then walked across the street and submitted the grievance at the second step of the grievance procedure to the City’s business administrator.
A meeting was then conducted with Santiago, a number of other PBA representatives, a PBA attorney, and the business administrator. Santiago did not comply with Ott’s order and the City then initiated disciplinary proceedings. Concluding that he had committed insubordination, the City fined Santiago the amount of $6,468 (an amount equal to 30 days’ pay). The PBA challenged the disciplinary decision through filing an unfair labor practice complaint before New Jersey’s Public Employment Relations Commission.
In a 3-2 decision, PERC found that the discipline did not amount to an unfair labor practice. In PERC’s eyes, “if a union representative alerts a police chief about problems in the internal affairs bureau, the chief has a right to investigate those allegations. We appreciate the impact a union president’s being forced to reveal his sources could have on unit members. However, the paramilitary nature of a police department and the critical concern about possible misconduct in an internal affairs bureau outweigh any potential chilling effect on police officers.”
PERC ducked the question as to whether a broad “union member” privilege existed: “We do not need to answer the question of whether a broad union representation privilege exists. We simply decide that under the facts of this case, Ott had the right to order Santiago to provide information about the allegations involving the internal affairs bureau and that Santiago did not have a privilege under the Act to refuse to provide that information. Under all these circumstances, the City did not violate the Act when it initiated discipline in response to Santiago’s refusal to provide the ordered information.”
City of Bridgetown, No. 2011-4 (N.J. PERC 2011).
This article appears in the March 2011 issue.