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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 8th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 10

Firefighters union sues Santa Maria city, employees


The Santa Maria Firefighters Union filed a complaint in March claiming that city officials retaliated against labor union executives for opposing a promotion policy.

The Santa Maria Firefighters Union is accusing the city and three of its current and former employees of illegally retaliating against labor union executives for opposing a proposed hiring policy.

A lawsuit filed in March, shortly after a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) hearing found that the city violated the state law on collective bargaining, claims that Santa Maria Fire Chief Leonard Champion, Human Resources Director Jayne Anderson, and former City Manager Rick Haydon threatened to investigate and impose disciplinary measures on labor union executives for pushing back on a policy that would have changed how the department hires fire department captains.

“By retaliating against members for openly defending themselves against a policy that could potentially harm citizens, it has created an atmosphere of fear surrounding union activities,” the complaint states.

According to the complaint, in March 2016, then interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley proposed opening the captain’s exam to firefighters outside of the Santa Maria Fire Department to fill three open positions. Labor union executives openly opposed this move, and said it could not be done without discussing the proposal with the union. The situation was resolved after three internal candidates were promoted to fire captain positions in April 2016.

Less than a year later, Fire Chief Champion proposed the same idea as his predecessor, and he was met with the same opposition from labor union executives.

According to the complaint, Champion notified labor union executives via email that he planned to post the job opening to outside candidates in February 2017. Two labor union executives, Anthony Morales and Jill Hoover, discussed the situation with Chris Mahon, a representative from the California Professional Firefighters (CPF), which represents more than 100 fire agency labor associations throughout the state.

After Champion moved forward with posting the job opening, the CPF sent an email to all of its member agencies recommending that firefighters don’t apply for the job.

“In an act of solidarity and mutual support ... CPF has routinely broadcast such notices to its members to keep professional firefighters aware of the illegal actions of certain administrations and agencies,” the complaint states.

Following this, Champion sent a memorandum to all members of the fire department expressing his frustration with the notice. According to the complaint, Champion then notified labor union executives that they were under investigation for their roles in the notice and could face disciplinary actions, including termination.

“Champion has deliberately harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against [labor union executives] by investigating them for no other reason other than to retaliate for plaintiffs’ association activity,” the complaint states.

According to PERB’s proposed decision, the city violated state law by not meeting and conferring with the labor union before making changes to the hiring process. Additionally, PERB’s decision states that the city violated state law by retaliating against labor union executives.

In its proposed decision, PERB directs the city to meet and negotiate with the labor union on the possibility of changing the hiring process for fire captains. The proposed decision also directs the city to destroy any documents obtained during the investigation against labor union executives. Both the labor union and the city have the chance to comment on PERB’s proposed decision before it becomes official.

In the complaint, labor union executives are requesting relief through more than $25,000 in damages, as well as lawsuit costs, attorney fees, and all other relief deemed necessary in court. Labor union executives are also requesting a jury trial.

The city has not yet filed its response to the complaint and doesn’t have a comment on the lawsuit, said city Public Information Officer Mark van de Kamp. The Santa Maria City Council is set to discuss the complaint during a closed session at a meeting on May 7.

According to attorney Michael McGill, who is representing the labor union executives in the lawsuit, the city has said the lawsuit lacks merit and that it intends to file a motion for the case to be dismissed.

“The sad thing about a case like this is the city is going to end up paying their attorneys more money than it would take to resolve it,” McGill said.

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