Chief’s Threat To Kill Police Union Representatives Is Unfair Labor Practice

To say that relations between Saginaw Township Police Chief Stephen Renico and the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) were rocky in 2001 is an understatement. On September 7, 2001, Chief Renico told representatives of POAM that he had thoughts of killing them and burying their bodies where no one could find them, as was done to former Teamsters’ head James Hoffa. Chief Renico then calmed down and told the POAM representatives that because they were just messengers, he would not kill them. While escorting them to the door, he balanced his hands like a scale and said, “There is a price to pay when you come in here. You have to weigh the price, to see if it is worth the price.”

At a December 12, 2001 meeting, Chief Renico used profane and threatening language in stating what he would do if a grievance involving standby pay were filed. Chief Renico said that he would issue a direct order requiring employees to report to work during standby time if they filed a grievance. He made such statements as, “I’m going to give an order, a direct order, they’re going to report here in uniform on stand-by. I’ll pay them then. But they’re going to get a lot of folks pissed at them. Then they want to play f*** around, I’ll play f*** around right back.”

During a December 18, 2001 meeting, Chief Renico said that if overtime became an issue, he would limit the number of officers on vacation to one per shift. He also indicated that he would put one of the grievance proponents on a “short leash.” On January 4, 2002, in response to the filing of grievances and his “short leash” statement to POAM representatives, Chief Renico issued an order requiring POAM representatives to obtain his permission before conducting POAM business during working hours.

POAM’s local association president, Officer Douglas Nelson, secretly tape-recorded the conversations with Chief Renico on December 12, 2002. POAM’s vice president secretly tape-recorded a meeting with the Chief on January 14, 2003.

Michigan’s Employment Relations Commission found the conduct of both sides wanting. As to the Chief’s statements, the Commission concluded that the statements “were threatening and coercive and interfered with the exercise of rights guaranteed under the law. Although a certain latitude is extended regarding offensive or critical remarks made in bargaining and/or the grievance procedure, an employer cannot threaten employees or retaliate against them for pursuing a grievance.”

The Commission also found POAM’s surreptitious tape recording of the Chief violated the law. As the Commission put it, “there is no question that grievance meetings are an integral part of the collective bargaining process and are subject to the law’s requirement of good faith bargaining. The recording of grievance meetings and other discussions impacting wages, hours, or other conditions of employment, severely inhibits the willingness of parties to express themselves and significantly impairs the bargaining process. We conclude that engaging in the secret tape-recording of a grievance meeting interferes with the bargaining process and is the equivalent of bargaining to impasse on a permissive subject.”

The Commission ordered POAM to stop surreptitiously tape-recording meetings with the Chief. On the other side, the Commission ordered the City to: (1) Cease and desist from interfering with, restraining or coercing employees by threatening physical harm and telling them that there is a price to pay for filing grievances; (2) cease and desist from threatening stricter enforcement of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement for filing grievances; (3) cease and desist from imposing tighter restrictions for filing grievances; and (4) insure that all employees are free to engage in lawful, concerted activity through representatives of their choice for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Saginaw Township, 18 MPER ¶30 (Mich. ERC 2005).

This article appears in the August 2005 issue