Labor Board Refuses To Sever Detectives From Sworn Unit

On October 4, 2019, the St. Petersburg Police Officers’ Association, Inc. (POA) filed a petition seeking to represent a bargaining unit consisting of police detectives employed by the City of St. Petersburg, Florida. The detectives are currently represented by the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (Sun Coast), as part of a bargaining unit that includes the classifications of police officer, forensic services technician, and latent print examiner.

Florida’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) refused to sever the detectives from the bargaining unit represented by Sun Coast. PERC noted that it would “not sever classifications from a bargaining unit unless the party seeking severance demonstrates that the existing unit is unworkable or otherwise inappropriate. This significant burden is imposed, in part, Florida statutes require that the Commission consider the ‘history of employee relations within the organization of the public employer concerning organization and negotiation and the interest of the employees and the employer in the continuation of a traditional, workable, and accepted negotiation relationship’ when defining a unit. PERC will not sever classifications from an existing unit merely because the classifications would not be included in the unit if the Commission were defining it for the first time.

“Here, the POA did not call any witnesses and offered no testimony about why the current unit was either unworkable or otherwise inappropriate. Moreover, it did not cross-examine or rebut any of the witnesses presented by the City. The POA did introduce 32 exhibits, but only gave a brief statement about each. The POA failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that severance is appropriate.

“It appears that the POA is relying largely on cases that involved situations where specialized internal affairs officers who routinely took part in investigations of bargaining unit members were excluded from a unit based on a conflict of interest. But here, it is a rare occurrence at the City where a detective might be involved in an investigation of a bargaining unit member. Moreover, the cases that the POA relies on did not involve severance of classifications from an existing bargaining unit.

“The POA alluded to arguments that some of the City’s detectives believe that the PBA has failed to address the needs and desires of the detectives when it comes to increased wages for detectives and on-call pay. The POA’s response also suggested that the detectives are not being heard by the Sun Coast because they make up a smaller portion of the overall unit. Notably, there was no testimony on any of these points at the hearing. In fact, the undisputed evidence at the hearing showed that the PBA had just finished successfully negotiating a CBA through 2022. Moreover, of the 108 detectives in the Investigative Services Bureau, 90 were dues-paying members of Sun Coast.”

St. Petersburg Police Officers’ Association, 46 FPER ¶ 291 (Fla. PERC 2020).