Almanac

News - January 9, 2013

Atherton: Police union dumps Teamsters, hires law firm for labor talks

by Renee Batti

Just months before contract talks with the town of Atherton open, the Atherton police officers' union has parted ways with the Teamsters union that has represented it for years, and now is affiliated with the San Mateo County Deputy Sheriffs' Association.

At the same time, the Atherton Police Officers' Association is enlisting the services of the Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller and Johnsen, a Sacramento-based law firm, to assist it with its labor negotiations.

"The membership took a vote and we felt we would be better represented by the Mastagni law firm," APOA president John Mattes said in an email, in response to the question of whether the officers were dissatisfied with the Teamsters' representation

In a press release dated Jan. 1 — Mr. Mattes' first day as APOA president — Mr. Mattes said the local union is joining the county Deputy Sheriffs' Association as "associate members." He explained in an email that the APOA will be a non-voting member of the DSA, but will share services, such as "use of their office manager to answer phones, a conference room and meeting room that we do not have at Atherton."

The town's contract with APOA expires in August, and negotiations are likely to begin around April, according to City Manager George Rodericks. The town hasn't decided who will assist it in its negotiations, he said.

A preview of how congenially — or not — the contract talks are likely to play out was on view last year when the APOA waged an active campaign in support of City Council candidates Elizabeth Lewis, an incumbent, and Cary Wiest. Both candidates won election to the two vacant seats.

The APOA's election-time effort included sending out a mailer that the council characterized as misleading and some council members blasted for use of "scare-mongering" tactics. The union also conducted a phone campaign, in which it endorsed the two candidates. Both strategies referred to the council's alleged consideration of contracting police services with another agency, or seriously slashing police compensation — allegations hotly contested by council members.

The council has stated on numerous occasions that the town needs to reduce its employee costs, and has already taken steps expected to lower compensation for non-represented employees. In 2011, the town laid off most of its non-police employees and contracted for services in the building and public works departments.

The current contract with police officers guarantees that officers will be compensated at a rate that is in the 70th percentile of police officer pay in specified jurisdictions in the area.

Mr. Mattes, a police dispatcher whose position as communications supervisor was eliminated last year at a cost to him of nearly $30,000 a year in salary, said the move away from Teamsters representation and the use of a firm specializing in labor law would not be more costly for the APOA. "We, as an association, will be paying less per month/member for better services," he wrote in his email.

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