City, Local 2665 at odds over political activity section of new pact

Union believes City Charter language infringes on employees’ right of free speech.


Crestwood and the union that represents its firefighters are at odds over whether a new memorandum of understanding between the two parties should contain a section governing employee political activity.

Both City Attorney Rob Golterman and Kurt Becker, a vice president with Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said recently that negotiations for a new MOU are ongoing despite the matter appearing on a recent Board of Aldermen meeting agenda.

At issue, Becker told the Call, is the inclusion in the new MOU of a section that defines employees’ political activity as described in the Crestwood Charter.

The city’s governing document prohibits employees from soliciting “any contribution for the campaign fund of any candidate for Crestwood city office or take part in the political campaign of any candidate for Crestwood city office.”

It permits employees to “exercise their right as private citizens to express opinions and if a qualified voter in Crestwood, to sign a nominating petition for any city candidate and to vote in any city election …”

Local 2665 is of the opinion that the City Charter language infringes on an employee’s constitutional right to free speech and assembly, Becker said.

“There’s a broad group of issues related to charter language like this, and we feel strongly that in the near future this type of language is going to be challenged in court, and I think we’re going to prevail,” he said.

As such, Local 2665 doesn’t want the language included in the new MOU, Becker said.

“We’re not going to agree to that because we’re not going to sign an agreement that we believe takes our members’ constitutional rights away, because then as a union we feel like that exposes us to a fair amount of liability,” he said. “We could then be named as a defendant if one of our members in Crestwood chose to sue. If we knowingly agree to an article in a memorandum that takes away their fundamental constitutional rights, we feel like that puts us as much on the hook as it does the city.”

Local 2665 has suggested to the city that the political activity article from the MOU be removed “and we’ll just agree to disagree on this and move forward with the understanding that at some point this is either going to to get fixed legislatively or litigiously,” Becker said.

However, Golterman is opposed to taking that section out, Becker said.

“The problem is that … even though I believe the majority of the board, the (fire) chief and the city manager would like to sign an agreement with us that has reasonable accommodations for political activity for our members, the city attorney feels like because Crestwood is a constitutional charter city, if the city manager and board agree to approve this memorandum and the language on political activity is contrary to the language contained in the City Charter, his contention is that doing so usurps the authority of the Charter and therefore has questionable legal standing … We feel like his interpretation is a little inaccurate.”

Becker referenced the case of “Independence National Educational Association v. Independence School District,” in which the Missouri Supreme Court in 2007 reaffirmed the section of the Missouri Constitution that states public employees “shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”

“We feel like that puts the rights of an employee to bargain collectively on par with the same parameters set forth in the Missouri Constitution that define charter cities,” Becker said. “They’re both contained in the Missouri Constitution. They’re both clearly defined there, and it’s been upheld by the highest court in the land.

“The city attorney, Mr. Golterman, is arguing that the article of the Missouri Constitution that defines the parameters of a charter city overrides the article of the Missouri Constitution that defines an employee’s right to bargain collectively. We don’t agree with that. We feel like that’s kind of an esoteric legal argument, especially when you’re talking about an article of the charter that is clearly contradictory to the United States Constitution.

“But be that as it may, we recognize that this is a big issue,” Becker continued. “This is an issue that exceeds the breadth and scope of a city council to decide. And so we’re willing to remove that article from the memorandum entirely and we’re hoping that the city agrees to that.

“At some point down the road the Missouri Legislature is going to make a decision on this issue specifically or it will be referred to the courts and rendered from there.”

Becker said the union is “fine with the rest of the agreement as it stands.”

Golterman told the Call he was “not at liberty to discuss the nature of the negotiations at this point” but said he did not disagree with Becker’s statements about them.

The city attorney added that Crestwood’s Charter, “as the governing document for the city, applies to all the employees. Whether there’s a group that has certain limited bargaining rights or not, it’s my position that the Charter applies to all the employees. How they view it is up to them. We’ve sought clarification on their position with respect to this issue and I’m waiting to hear back from their representatives …

Golterman said the city’s position “is consistent with the law with respect to bargaining rights.”

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously last June to have Golterman draft legislation to adopt a new MOU. Local 2665 and Crestwood officials had negotiated the document over the course of roughly one year before it was first presented to the board June 22. The previous agreement was negotiated in 2006.

However, the two parties reopened negotiations after aldermen in August defeated a series of changes to the city’s Civil Service Rules and Regulations relating to layoffs, employee political activity and alcohol and controlled substance policies.

Golterman and Becker said at the time that the union agreed on the proposed MOU with the understanding that aldermen would approve the modifications to the civil service rules.

The MOU re-appeared on the board’s Feb. 8 meeting agenda, but aldermen tabled the matter after officials said a Local 2665 meeting had to be rescheduled due to inclement weather, delaying members’ consideration of the new, three-year agreement.

Officials made no mention then of a disagreement over the political activity article, saying only that the union had concerns over the layoff policy. Those were resolved by copying language from the previous MOU.