By TIM ROWDEN
Clayton — The St. Louis Police Officers Association, the union representing St. Louis County prosecutors and investigators, is suing St. Louis County officials for refusing to bargain in good faith with the union.
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 14 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, asks a judge to issue a declaratory judgement ordering county officials to bargain with the St. Louis Police Officers Association. It also asks a judge to rescind changes to conditions of employment imposed by St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell since Jan. 1, 2019.
The SLPOA represents 45 St. Louis County prosecutors and six investigators who voted to unionize in December 2018. The prosecutors and investigators voted to join the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which represents city police officers, rather than the St. Louis County Police Officers Association, which represents county officers, to avoid any potential conflicts of interest that might arise were county police and prosecutors represented by the same union.
Since then, the lawsuit alleges, St. Louis County officials have refused to sit down with the union to negotiate hours, pay, assignments, job descriptions and transfers.
“We made multiple attempts to ask them to sit down and negotiate with us,” said Neil Bruntrager, a lawyer representing the union. “You’re obligated to negotiate with us under the constitution.
“This isn’t something that is discretionary on their part. Once there is a collective bargaining unit, they have to meet with us.”
Here’s the timeline:
- In the fall of 2018, several St. Louis County attorneys and investigators contacted the St. Louis Police Officers Association about representing them in a collective bargaining unit regarding their terms and conditions of employment, according to the lawsuit.
After one third of the group signed authorization cards, the Association contacted St. Louis County and informed them of the attorneys’ and investigators’ interest in unionizing and requested voluntary recognition of the Association as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the unit.
- On Nov. 15, 2018, the St. Louis Police Officers Association sent a letter to then-County Executive Steve Stenger to propose a secret ballot election to determine whether or not the proposed bargaining unit wished to be represented by them. A day later, the lawsuit alleges, the County Executive sent a letter to the St. Louis Police Officers Association stating that the county was exploring “a number of issues concerning voluntary recognition or an election.”
- In December 2018, 33 votes were cast in favor of making the St. Louis Police Officers Association the exclusive bargaining representative of the attorneys and investigators. The in-favor votes represented an “absolute majority” of eligible voters, according to the lawsuit.
- In early January 2019, Ed Clark, who was then president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, sent a letter to Stenger and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell requesting dates to begin bargaining regarding the terms and conditions of the employment of the bargaining unit and noted that there should be no “unilateral changes in working conditions without bargaining.”
Those requests continued to Sam Page, who was appointed to be county executive in April 2019 after Stenger pleaded guilty to federal charges in a pay-to-play scheme.
- As of January 2020, according to the lawsuit, Bell and St. Louis County have failed and refused to meet and bargain with the St. Louis Police Officers Association. In addition, the lawsuit states, the two entities have made changes in the terms and conditions of employment without notifying the St. Louis Police Officers Association and its bargaining committee.
OPEN TO TALKS
Doug Moore, director of communications for St. Louis County Executive Page, said in a statement that the county is open to negotiating:
“The union has been in discussions with Mr. Bell, but this is the first time we’ve heard that they were interested in talking to us about it. Lawsuit or not, we will bargain with any properly-constituted union as the law requires. We will reach out to the union representatives to see where communications fell apart.”