The Division of Labor Relations on 11/18/09 ruled against the Town of Sharon in Town of Sharon and Massachusetts Coalition of Police, AFL-CIO Case # CAS-08-3724 in their effort to sever the Sergeants from the regular union.
The Town of Sharon argued that sergeants should be removed from the union “because they supervise the patrolmen and, therefore, there is an inherent conflict within the bargaining unit. The Union, on the other hand, argues that this CAS petition is an inappropriate vehicle for determining whether the sergeants should be excluded and should, therefore, be dismissed on this ground. Alternatively, the Union argues that the bargaining unit remains appropriate as the sergeants do not possess a significant amount of supervisory authority to justify severance”.
The board agreed with the unions arguments stating “Generally, a CAS petition is appropriate to determine whether newly-created positions should be included or excluded from a bargaining unit, or to determine whether there have been substantial changes in the job duties of existing positions such that their inclusion or exclusion from a bargaining unit is warranted. Sheriff of Worcester County, 30 MLC 132, 136 (2004) (citing North Andover School Committee, 10 MLC 1226, 1230 (1983)). A CAS petition may also be appropriate if “the outcome sought by the petition is `clearly supported by an apparent deficiency in the scope of the existing unit and… [is], at least arguably, within the realm of what the… parties intended when the unit was first formulated.”‘ Id. at 137 (quoting City of Somerville, 1 MLC 1234, 1236 (1975)). However, in the absence of a question concerning representation, the Board will generally not entertain a CAS petition as a severance petition. City of Quincy, 10 MLC 1027, 1031 (1983)……. Lastly, it is important to note that because the petition asks only that the Board sever the sergeants from the patrolmen and not that it place them into the bargaining unit with the lieutenants, a grant of this petition would create a separate supervisory bargaining unit consisting of only four people. The Board has previously declined to create multiple police supervisory units for one workforce. Sheriff of Worcester County at 138. Failure to adhere to the principle here would go against Board policy of creating broad, comprehensive bargaining units rather than small and fragmented ones. Worcester School Committee, 22 MLC 1762, 1765 (1996).”
The argument can be made that Sergeants are first line supervisors and as such may inherently find their roles in conflict with the union’s during disciplinary proceedings, or other similar situations. Those situations are however rare and allowing a severance of the union, creating another bargaining unit would likely create more problems than it solves. Interestingly, it is with the smaller departments where a Sergeant holds the most authority thus creating the conflict. But because of the smaller size of the agency and number of parties involved it is also less likely that the Board will entertain a petition to sever the union.
Attorney Ronald A. Sellon