Can an elected city
councilor publicly lambaste a union to the point of telling union members they
should decertify and leave their union?
The Oregon Employment
Relations Board says "No!" — and issued an edict to the City of Lebanon
ordering it to cease and desist just such action.
This story began in January
2011, when the city was bargaining with members of both AFSCME Local 2043,
which represents general city employees, and Teamsters Local 223, which
represents Lebanon's police officers. Local 2043 President Richard Nelson and
Local 223 President Greg Burroughs co-authored a letter to the city, urging the
city council to consider eliminating the positions of assistant city
manager/human resources manager and human resources assistant before laying off
other city front-line staff, or making any cuts in salary or benefits to their
The union presidents' letter
led to a response from Lebanon City Councilor Margaret Campbell. But Campbell
didn't write to Nelson and Burroughs, she wrote to the local newspaper, the
Lebanon Express, addressing her
missive to all citizens of the city.
Campbell's letter talked
about the duties and need of HR personnel, then went on to quote federal
statistical information about AFSCME and the Teamsters before offering personal
negative critiques of unions in general. She then unloaded this paragraph:
- "To employees of the city and other
organizations imprisoned by the dictatorship of a union, as a private
citizen I advise you to seek out the Department of Labor website where you
can find instructions on how to de-certify your union captors. As an
individual and former union member I believe you can put your dues to
better use in your own household budget and in supporting causes that
truly express your own values."
The Express published a follow-up article simply about
Campbell's letter, noting that Campbell planned to read it at an upcoming city
council meeting and that the letter was available on the newspaper's website.
The unions filed an Unfair
Labor Practice (ULP) charge against Campbell and the city, noting that
bargaining unit members were hurt, offended or angered by the statements in the
letter. Moreover, union members became fearful of engaging in any sort of
concerted public activity to protest the city's actions, as Campbell's letter
caused a detrimental impact on labor relations and employee morale.
The ERB ruled for the
unions, finding the city in violation of state law prohibiting public employers
or designated representatives from interfering with, restraining or coercing
employees in or because of the exercise of rights guaranteed under the Oregon
Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA).
The city argued Campbell
sent the letter as a private citizen; ERB didn't buy it. Campbell signed the
letter "Margaret A. Campbell, City Councilor, Ward II." ERB noted that, "In
this environment, a member of the city council, the group with ultimate
authority to make budget decisions, tells employees they should find out how to
decertify their 'union captors.' Bargaining unit members who read the letter
might reasonably feel obligated to follow Campbell's suggestions and reject the
union, hoping to receive better treatment from the city council if they did."
The ruling also noted that
First Amendment free speech protections were not violated, because the city, as
an entity, does not have free speech rights as do private individuals —
playing back on the ERB's ruling that Campbell's letter constituted an action
from the city, not from her as a private party.
ERB ordered the city to
"cease and desist" such action, and required it to post a notice of violation
prominently in all buildings and facilities where city bargaining unit
employees work. A copy of the ERB notice is attached to this article in PDF