Police Chief Not Required To Speak At Union Meeting

Rank-and-file officers in the Oak Harbor, Washington Police Department are represented by the Oak Harbor Police Association. The Association was scheduled to hold a general membership meeting on May 28, 2015, and invited the Police Chief to attend the meeting.

To facilitate the event, the Association provided the Chief with a list of questions almost two weeks prior to the meeting. The Association was anticipating that the Chief would answer questions from employees concerning morale, chain of command, and the overall state of the Department.

On May 28, 2015, the Chief contacted a bargaining unit employee and stated that the employer’s human resources department wanted his meeting with the Association to be recorded. The Association’s vice president and secretary met with the Chief approximately an hour before the scheduled meeting and explained that the Association was denying the employer’s request to record the Chief’s question-and-answer presentation. The Chief asked if he could instead have someone from the human resources department come along to take notes. When the Association denied this request as well, the Chief informed the Association that he could not attend the meeting if the Association would not allow his presentation to be recorded or notes to be taken by someone in human resources.

The Association filed an unfair labor charge against the City, contending that the refusal by the Chief to attend the meeting was an unlawful interference with its collective bargaining rights. Under the law, an “interference” violation occurs when an employee could reasonably perceive the employer’s actions as a threat of reprisal or force, or promise of benefit, associated with the Union activity of that employee or of other employees.

Washington’s Public Employment Relations Commission dismissed the Association’s complaint. The Commission found that it was facing “a situation where the employer’s Police Chief chose not to speak at a Union meeting after being told that he could not record his question and answer presentation or have another employer official take notes to document the content of what was said at the meeting. The facts do not describe any threats being made to represented employees. The employer had no legal obligation to send the Chief of Police to the Union’s general membership meeting to answer employees’ questions. The facts do not describe interference with employees’ collective bargaining rights.”

Oak Harbor Police Association v. City of Oak Harbor, 2015 WL 7199460 (Wash. PERC. 2015).