Chief’s Restriction On Chewing Tobacco Hard To Swallow For Wilkes-Barre Police Union

WILKES-BARRE — The new police chief’s restriction on the use of chewing tobacco has been hard to swallow for the union representing city police officers.

The Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in Harrisburg in February, challenging the move by chief Marcella Lendacky to limit the use chewing tobacco.

“Prior to January 29, 2016, member of the PBA were permitted to smoke tobacco in one designated area and had no restrictions on the use of chewing tobacco,” said the complaint filed Feb. 22.

Lendacky put a new policy in place that day and restricted the use of chew to one area without first bargaining with the union, the complaint said. The PBA sought unspecified “appropriate relief.”

But Lendacky disputed the union’s complaint. “I was reinstituting something that was long in existence,” she said Tuesday.

The complaint, one of five filed by the PBA since Mayor Tony George appointed Lendacky to replace Robert Hughes at the start of the year, described a contentious relationship between the union and the first female chief of the department. A 13-page letter drafted by the PBA’s board of directors on March 21, the day Lendacky was officially named chief, further detailed the union’s concerns about her lack of leadership to the mayor and city council.

“Officers and employees are disgusted. Members, who looked forward to what the day would bring, now no longer want to come to work. For many, a professional career has become nothing more than a job,” the letter said.

The issues did not stem from Lendacky’s gender, the letter said. Many of the union members had female supervisors in other police departments, the military or private sector jobs, the letter said.

“The City of Wilkes-Barre and the members of this department deserve better and deserve a true leader,” the letter said.

The members labeled Lendacky vindictive, saying she lacked courage and questioning her honesty and credibility.

The PBA directors stated that for the first time in 12 years, the union “has lost its professional working relationship with the police administration.”

Instead of focusing on the goal of “law and order” — the platform George, a former police chief, campaigned on while running for office last year — the union “has shifted its focus on defending well-established labor issues,” the letter said.

“This pending litigation — the cost of which has historically come from the police department budget — will come at a cost that could be spent on providing training, equipment, additional officers, or police services to the citizens of Wilkes-Barre,” the letter said.

From The Times Leader