Friday, August 26, 2005 | An unfair labor practice complaint filed against City Attorney Mike Aguirre by the city’s largest labor union passed muster with the state employer relations board and will move to settlement hearings or a proceeding in front of an administrative law judge.
The Municipal Employees Association, which represents more than 6,000 white-collar city workers, filed a 13-point complaint against the city of San Diego and Aguirre in June. It claimed Aguirre attempted to intimidate employees and interfere with the union’s advocacy work.
If the state Public Employment Relations Board were to find the union’s allegations valid, notices would adorn bulletin boards around city offices declaring that the city attorney had violated labor laws.
The complaint creates another venue in an ongoing battle between Aguirre and the MEA leadership. Union officials have been the most vocal and active in opposing Aguirre’s attempts to solve the city’s pension crisis by repealing a series of pension benefit enhancements dating back to 1996.
“What we want out of it is for the city to take this seriously as an employer and make sure people are not working in an environment of threats and innuendoes,” said MEA president Judie Italiano.
MEA attorney Ann Smith withdrew 11 of the 13 original allegations filed against Aguirre in June, but the union succeeded based on the allegation that Aguirre threatened to “fire any employee who spoke against him or his policies.” The same allegation also claims that Aguirre told union employees that “Ms. Italiano and Ms. Smith were lying to employees and that if someone didn’t prosecute them, he would.”
MEA employees serve as clerical workers, investigators and paralegals in the City Attorney’s Office.
Aguirre has been a vocal public critic of Italiano and Smith and has called for union members to replace them. He has tied both of them to deals between the city and the pension board made in 1996 and 2002 that are the heart of a pension deficit estimated to be at least $1.37 billion.
Richard A. Paul, an outside attorney defending the city, said the comments were made within the confines of a public law office and fall under communications protected by the attorney-client privilege. Therefore, he said, they shouldn’t be made public.
Employees also are conflicted by their own personal stake in the pension dispute and their need to fulfill their jobs, Paul said.
There is tension between “being faithful to the rights of all employees to their benefits, but at the same time being faithful to the right and duty of the city attorney to have people who will advocate the appropriate rights and issues put forth by the city attorney,” he said.
If no settlement is reached and PERB officials rule in favor of the union, a cease and desist order would be levied against Aguirre. The ruling would order him to stop the alleged actions and notices of the ruling would be placed around city offices.
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