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VOL. 123 | NO. 48 | Monday, March 10, 2008

Ruling Expected In Police Association Injunction Request

By Bill Dries

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STAND IN SUPPORT: Memphis Police Association members stand in a show of support at last week's City Council meeting. The union and the city are awaiting a ruling by federal Judge Hardy Mays on the city's insistence that MPA President Lt. Gene Hulley be banned from participating in contract negotiations with the city. -- Photo By Bill Dries

The Herenton administration and the Memphis Police Association already are in court and contract negotiations between the two are just getting started.

U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays soon could issue a ruling on a request by the union for an injunction permitting its president, Lt. Gene Hulley, to take part in the bargaining. Mays heard Thursday from both sides in the federal lawsuit.

The suit claims the city is violating Hulley's and the union's rights to free speech.

In the motion for the injunction, MPA attorneys said Hulley wasn't advancing any personal grievance by seeking to speak and act as head of the union.

"It is important that the MPA leadership be able to reflect and address the concerns of the membership in negotiations," the motion reads. "This objective is not disruptive, but instead works toward efficient labor relations, which in turn leads to the better overall functioning of the department."

The suit claims Hulley is being punished for the campaign he waged to become president of the union.

The city countered that this does not involve speech about a "matter of public concern" and is not protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"The speech at issue in the present case involves discussion of private employment issues between the police officers as employees and the city as their employer - not a matter of public concern with broader societal ramifications," city attorneys wrote in arguments filed before Thursday's hearing.

The bargaining sessions between the two sides are open to the public. The caucuses among members of each team are not.

"Even if the identified speech is deemed to be of public concern," the city's argument continued, "the Memphis Police Services Division acted in its role as an employer and directed those acts at speech that has some potential to affect its operations and the efficient delivery of police protection services to the public."


Conflicts brewing

The controversy has been brewing since late last year when Hulley decided to run for the leadership of the 35-year-old municipal union.

Hulley was elected union leader last year and took office in January. But Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin and other top brass have banned Hulley from participating because his rank makes him a supervisor. When Hulley was ordered by a supervisor to leave a get-acquainted session between the two bargaining teams last month and then was banned from private caucuses of the union negotiating team, he and the union took the city to court.

Should Mays grant the injunction, it would be pending a full court hearing and decision on the lawsuit.

The MPA has had two lieutenants serve as leaders previously. But Godwin said Samuel Williams and Steve Brown each sought permission from management before running for the posts. Hulley didn't, and Godwin has said even if Hulley had, permission wouldn't have been granted.

Godwin told City Council members last week that there is a fundamental conflict in representing and advocating for rank-and-file cops and being a supervisor or manager of those same cops.

"This director is not going to do it when it is wrong. I will not have a member of my management team negotiate and caucus against management," Godwin said.

The issue came to a head in December, when Godwin had nine police officers disciplined for "hanging out" at union headquarters while radio dispatchers showed they were on calls. Godwin said at the time it is a scenario he had raised with Hulley before when he asked Hulley if Hulley would have to represent union members in such disciplinary proceedings even if as a supervisor he had to write them up for violating the rules.

Two days before last week's federal court hearing, the union took its case to the City Council and found some support.

With nearly 100 union officers standing behind him, MPA Vice President J.D. Sewell told the council, "We ask that we not be muzzled."


Tough battle remains?

Police officers haven't had a pay raise in two years. The council could be drawn into any stalemate in the contract talks if the talks are declared at an impasse. It then would be up to a three-member council impasse committee to weigh final offers from each side and choose one in a process that is binding on both sides. Selection for duty on an impasse committee is considered one of the most dreaded and politically perilous assignments a council member can draw.

"I've never heard of any labor organization being treated this way in all my years," said council member Bill Boyd, a former city division director with experience on the management side of contentious labor talks. "I urge the administration to make an about-face."

Other council members were more general, reflecting the economic conditions that could make pay raises or other budget growth much more difficult for the city in the coming fiscal year.

"It's going to be a tough budget," said council member Reid Hedgepeth. "Our Memphis Police Department is the No. 1 priority we should all be focused on."

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