About 12 hours after the Santa Clara City Council approved a 4 percent cut to the police department budget in the face of a $42 million deficit, the Santa Clara Police Officers Association (POA) filed an Unfair Labor Practices complaint with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). [POA PERB complaint 2021]
The union claims that the City’s actions interfered with the union’s ability to negotiate and employees’ ability to join the union, and describes a 4 percent reduction to the police department budget — which involves no layoffs or salary cuts — as a “plan to defund the Santa Clara Police Department.”
The complaint was filed the same week that Santa Clara businesses received donation solicitations from the POA president Alex Torke; and, with confusing logic, faults the City for the mailer’s suggestion that the City’s budget cuts would affect service.
“The City has publicly disparaged and mischaracterized the SCPOA in terms that imply that the SCPOA is responsible for the City Council’s policy decisions that are likely to adversely impact public safety.
“These inflammatory statements,” the complaint continues, “would tend to discourage an employee organization such as the SCPOA from continuing to exercise its right to represent its members in their employment relations with the City.”
The POA also complains that the City is interfering with employees’ right to unionize.
“The City has publicly disparaged and mischaracterized the conduct of the SCPOA and its individual members,” says the complaint. “As these statements and misrepresentations would tend to discourage employees from joining or participating in the activities of the employee organization of their choosing, and coerce employees into abandoning their union activities.”
This “intimidation” and “coercion” refers to comments made at the March 9, 2020 Council meeting, specifically some made by Council Members Karen Hardy and Kevin Park that they were unwilling to consider using reserves to avoid cuts to the police department unless the union was willing to “come back to the table and renegotiate.”
The police union’s position — articulated at public meetings by union president Torke, Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Kathy Watanabe — is that Santa Clara should spend down its reserves to maintain the police department at the pre-pandemic level.
The complaint characterized as “clear intent…to disparage and vilify the SCPOA” Council Member Park’s comment that the police “are one of the units that have not bargained with us very well.”
“These comments run contrary to the fact that …the SCPOA expressed a willingness to work collaboratively with the City several months earlier when the City anticipated a budget shortfall.”
As further evidence of this coercion and intimidation, the complaint quotes Hardy’s reply to Torke that she’d “like to hear that they’re willing to give back their 4.7 increase, then.”
The union is asking the PERB judge to rule that Santa Clara violated the POA’s right to represent its members and interfered with the right of police officers to “join and participate in” the union. Further, the union demands that the City “post notice of its unlawful conduct” for 30 days and make a public statement to that effect at a public meeting.
4% Cut Not Exactly “Defunding” $78 Million Budget
The Santa Clara police union is characterizing the City’s budget cuts as “defunding the police.” The numbers tell a different story.
The final budget cut was 4 percent ($3.1 million) from a $78.1 million budget. The new budget cuts 15 positions that are currently vacant, so there would be no impact on current service levels. The revised budget is also $1.5 million more than the 2019-2020 budget of $73.5 million.
Police have received a cumulative total of 18 percent in pay increases since 2015, plus pay scale adjustments that keep base pay 6 percent above regional averages. Since 2016, the majority of California’s top 25 police salaries have been paid in Santa Clara. Contracts are negotiated every two years.
Gillmor and her slates of candidates, including Watanabe and Police Chief and former union president Patrick Nikolai, are beneficiaries of the union’s political spending.
In 2016, the police union began funneling developer money through its PAC — which continued through 2020 — and spending it on no-holds-barred negative campaigns falsely asserting that Gillmor opponents are dishonest, corrupt and ‘sellouts’ to Jed York. The union has campaigned, without exception, against every minority candidate that has run for City Council since 2016.
Prior to 2016, the union was largely uninvolved in political campaigns.