St. Charles vs. The Sergeants;
By Rich Trzupek
Special Analysis and Commentary
As Examiner readers are aware, the City of St. Charles is involved in a long, acrimonious and expensive dispute with the sergeants it employs in the Police Department. More precisely, the City does not want to recognize a collective bargaining unit that the sergeants have formed, Metropolitan Alliance of Police St. Charles Sergeants Chapter #28, which has been duly certified by the governing authority, the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
As the City pursues further litigation in an attempt to reverse the ILRB's order, management at The Examiner asked this reporter to review the transcript of the hearing held last fall by the ILRB. This hearing established the grounds by which the sergeants union feels it is entitled to be the bargaining unit for these employees, and the grounds by which the City feels that the union should not be certified. As the legal battle continues, arguments must be effectively based on the foundation established during this hearing.
Before we begin, a word or two regarding this reporter's qualifications to evaluate and comment on such a document are in order. While I am not an attorney, I have been frequently called on to review depositions and to testify as an expert witness in my role as an industrial consultant who is frequently involved in litigation matters for my clients. Further, I interact with prominent Chicago law firms on a daily basis, as part of that job. Accordingly, I have consulted with, and relied on, my friends in the legal community as part of preparing this story.
In any municipality, under State Law, there are employees who are allowed to form collective bargaining units, and those who are not. Simply put, if you get your hands dirty in the field on a daily basis, you may form a union. If you're the boss, you may not. In some cases, the distinction is clear. A patrolman on the street is clearly a grunt, and thus allowed to join a union. The Chief of Police equally as clearly fulfills an executive function and, thus, does not enjoy this privilege. Yet, there are many places in between these two extremes.
So where do sergeants fit it? According to the attorney representing the City, one Susan Love of Davis & Kuelthau SC, sergeants are clearly in the upper echelon.
They are "…supervisors as defined by the Act," she said in her opening statement. "Their principal work is substantially different from their subordinates, and they have the authority to hire, transfer, suspend, direct, discipline, adjust employee grievances, or effectively recommend those actions."
As later testimony would reveal, this definition of power came as quite a shock to St. Charles Sergeants, whom —according to Ms. Love—effectively ran the Police Department. Indeed, when reviewing her claims, one can't help but wonder why the City employed anyone over the rank of sergeant at all. They seem to make every decision, according to the City anyway.
The City, according to the transcript, has an official job description for sergeants that supports some of Ms. Love's assertions. That job description was distributed in June 2007. Interestingly, sergeants initially filed its petition to form a union one month before, in May 2007. Coincidence? Timing, it has been said, is everything.
The City's first witness was one of its Commanders, David Kintz. Kintz, an 18 year veteran of the Police Department, was a sergeant for about a year and a half, according to his testimony, before being promoted to Commander a little over two years ago. Making the jump that quickly indicates, to this veteran observer, that Kintz was either: a) remarkably talented, or b) incredibly pliant. A review of his testimony suggests the latter.
Under questioning by attorney (don't call me 'Doctor') Love, Kintz duly parrots the party line. Sergeants did it all, were involved in every decision. Indeed, it seems that they made practically every decision. But, under cross examination by the attorney for the union, one Joseph Mazzone, a different picture begins to emerge.
Love said that sergeants "have the authority to hire." Yet, we have this exchange:
Mazzone: "Do the sergeants have any input on hiring, getting the City to staff the department as per budgetary authorization?"
How about bargaining with the other rank and file? Can sergeants do that?
Mazzone: "Has any sergeants (sic) ever come to the table on behalf of the City and bargained with another union?"
Hmmmm. Perhaps they have unlimited spending authority? Is that it?
Mazzone: "Can they (sergeants) but equipment? Can they go out and buy the equipment?"
Dealing with the issue of employee evaluations, Kintz tried hard to be the good soldier, as Mazzone pushed the Commander to define who has the ultimate say in the process. Do sergeants recommend, or are they ultimate authority in the process? Mazzone pointed Kintz to a City document, in which four different signatures are required for the employee evaluation to be deemed complete.
Mazzone: Now we have a case where a commander, at least according to this document, needs to look at accuracy, completeness and has the ability to disapprove?”
Kintz: "Under this older system, yes."
Read "older system" to mean procedures in place prior to the date when sergeants filed to form a union. After that, Kintz implies, senior staffers are superfluous. They need not concern themselves with mundane issues like "accuracy, completeness and disapproval."
As a sergeant, one would assume that Kintz would have been intimately familiar with resolving grievances, which is yet another function of police sergeants, according to Love.
Mazzone: "--how man grievances were resolved at your level by you?"
Kintz: "Any grievance that would have been filled out on a formal level like this?"
Kintz: "I would not have resolved any."
Hiring decisions form a particularly important part of the City's case. According to Love, sergeants are hiring, practically at will, for all variety of positions. The distinction between sergeants offering their two cents and actually hiring an employee is emphasized again and again the transcript. Consider the following exchange:
Mazzone: "Now sir, you testified--you just testified that traffic sergeants hired the CSOS. (Community Service Officers). Kiki is a CSO. Did the traffic sergeant hire that CSO?"
Kintz: "Not that particular one, no."
Kintz's memory seemed to fail him at several points. However, nothing about that should be interpreted to mean that Kintz is lying, per se, although he does seem to be a little short on the truth. The better way to think of Commander Kintz is to picture an obedient, eager to please, puppy--who is equally uneager to cause any trouble, to any one.
Thus, he happily trots along under heel during Love's questioning, but--when Mazzone raps him on the snout during cross-examination--Kintz bids a hasty retreat.
Kintz's testimony occupies about one-third of the ILRB’s hearing transcript. It would be an extreme stretch, in this reporter’s opinion, to call his testimony "positive" from the City's point of view. That also means that we will have to dig even deeper to figure out where the heck the City is coming from. But, don't worry:
It gets better.