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Judge Rules Pasadena Unlawfully Interfered With Firefighter and Employee Union Rights

According to a Pasadena Firefighters’ Union spokesperson, the rank and file members have been at odds with Fire Chief Washington (fifth from left) for the past four years. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

City ‘disappointed… but respect judge’s decision’

By Terry Miller

A recent finding by an Administrative Law Judge in an Unfair Practices complaint brought by Local 809 against the City of Pasadena should concern all city leaders, according to Scott Austin of the Pasadena Firefighters’ Union.

A press release issued Nov. 15 stated, “First, it should be of concern that the City of Pasadena was found to have violated employee and union rights,” in a 69-page complaint. “Next, it should concern City leaders that an independent fact-finder found that two Battalion Chiefs were not truthful in the proceedings.”

The complaint by Local 809 arose out of a request by Pasadena firefighters to wear a black mourning band over their badge to honor fallen firefighters. In response, senior members of the Fire Department leadership team interfered with Local 809 by circulating a petition in support of the Fire Chief in a manner that coerced members to sign and side with management against labor.

In his 69-page ruling, Judge Bernard Rohrbacher admonished the City for failing to properly disavow and retract a petition created by Pasadena Fire Department command staff to garner support for Fire Chief Bertral Washington. The petition was drafted and circulated after Chief Washington’s controversial initial decision to disallow firefighters from shrouding their badges to honor firefighters who died battling forest fires. The ruling highlights that command staff were acting “in response to the high level of negativity in the Department surrounding the [Fire] Chief’s tenure and particularly in light of the mourning badge controversy.”

One expects that those in the position of leadership in the Pasadena Fire Department should always be truthful, particularly when testifying under oath. Thus, the City should be concerned that the Judge found “inherently unbelievable” the testimony of two battalion chiefs who testified under oath in the hearing. “Inherently unbelievable” is, of course, a polite way of saying that the fact-finder found the two battalion chiefs were not truthful in their testimony.

Scott Austin, president of the Pasadena Firefighters Association, Local 809, represents the rank-and-file firefighters and stated, “I am glad the court ruled in favor of firefighters and our members. I am disappointed that the Fire Department unlawfully went out of its way to confuse our members, not be truthful to the City and refuse to protect its employees. We had a simple request to honor fallen firefighters, who would have thought that request would be so difficult for Chief Washington and the command staff?”

In his ruling, the judge ruled that the City interfered with the employee rights guaranteed by the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA), the state law providing for public sector employee collective bargaining rights. As a remedy for the violation, the City has been ordered to cease and desist from interfering with rights guaranteed under the MMBA by not circulating a petition in a manner that tends to coerce employees or falsely describes Local 809’s member representation. The City was further ordered to post a notice to employees of that ruling and to have that notice remain posted for 30 days.

“Honoring fallen firefighters is an important part of healing, remembering and appreciating our health as first responders. This case is an unfortunate example of the Pasadena Fire Department coercing firefighters, not being truthful to an Administrative Law Judge and the city, and wasting taxpayer dollars to protect poor management decisions,” Austin stated.

Pasadena Firefighters’ Union represents 152 authorized Firefighters.

Pasadena Independent contacted the city for comment. “The judge ruled that Pasadena Fire Fighters Association failed to prove its claims that derogatory remarks were made about PFFA leadership, and that the PFFA’s allegations that the Department failed to investigate did not equate to interference. Moreover, the City, did in fact, investigate. The judge did conclude, however, that the petition circulated by Battalion Chiefs did interfere with the rights of the PFFA and its members, and the Fire Department will be required to post a notice regarding the ruling for 30 days. While the City is disappointed with the last conclusion, we respect the judge’s decision and value the work of our firefighters.” Steve Mermell, city manager, stated.

November 20, 2019

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Terry Miller


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