PBA fights union pin battle dragged out by Division of State Police

PBA fights union pin battle dragged out by Division of State Police
PBA, 2004-08-19

Continuing with our mission to defend our members’ rights in all forms and through a variety of means, the State Troopers PBA is fighting a legal battle over a verbal threat made by the Division of State Police’s chief attorney regarding union pins. The threat made by the Division Counsel was that if PBA members wore union pins while supporting other members at court proceedings, they would face disciplinary charges.

The PBA was successful in its legal challenges to this threat, and has prevailed through a number of appeals filed by the Division of State Police.

Below is an article printed in the August 19, 2004 edition of the Times Union newspaper of Albany detailing this matter.


Tiny union pin sets off legal battles

Albany– State Police officials push bid to ban troopers from wearing PBA label at trials

First published: Thursday, August 19, 2004

An unusual three-year battle between State Police officials and the union representing 3,500 of its employees over the right to wear a dime-sized PBA pin has been elevated to state Supreme Court.

Law enforcement officials say the fight is about protecting the department’s image and credibility when a trooper is participating in a criminal trial before a jury.

Officials with the Police Benevolent Association of New York State Troopers Inc. called the dispute a veiled attempt at union-busting that’s all about ego at taxpayers’ expense.

"This isn’t a legal story, it’s one of government waste," PBA president Dan DeFedericis said.

State Police spokesman Lt. Glenn R. Miner deferred to the attorney general’s office, which is handling the matter.

It all began when PBA vice president Don Postles sat at the defense table with a former trooper fighting animal cruelty charges at a 2002 criminal trial in Brunswick Town Court.

Postles had the small insignia tacked onto the lapel of his business suit as he offered support to Andrea Marrish, who had shot her own vicious dog while off-duty the previous year.

Marrish was acquitted by a jury after 15 minutes of deliberations in the two-day trial.

But then-Rensselaer County District Attorney Ken Bruno complained to the union that Postles’ pin could have influenced the verdict and created a conflict because other state troopers testified against Marrish, court papers said.

State Police Chief Counsel Glenn Valle then told union members at a Dec. 3, 2002, labor meeting they could no longer wear the lapel pin while participating in criminal trials.

Union leaders brought an improper practice charge against Valle that led to a Nov. 13 hearing before Administrative Law Judge David P. Quinn.

Quinn said March 17 that Valle’s edict violated Civil Service Law and that wearing a union membership pin is a protected right.

The Public Employees Review Board concurred in a July 8 decision that the responsibility for determining whether participants in a criminal proceeding are suitably attired rests solely with the trial judge. The board also noted any such rule to prohibit an employee from wearing a union pin was a subject for mandatory negotiation.

The board then ordered the state to rescind Valle’s directive.

Enter Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Mans, who filed an Article 78 challenge Friday to the decisions by the administrative law judge and the state board.

"The State Police has a very strong interest in the administration of justice … which would be significantly undermined … if jurors perceive individuals associated with the State Police assisting a criminal defendant," he reiterated in court papers.

A hearing has been set for Sept. 24.

But the pin predicament isn’t the first time the union and management have faced off lately. Union leaders accused top State Police officials in May of coercing employees to disclose their confidential medical records or face disciplinary action.

Despite recent passage of a federal medical privacy act, officials have been asking troopers to sign a waiver allowing them access to the records.

That violates privacy laws, union leaders argued in a pending lawsuit also in state Supreme Court. Valle has said officials have a right to screen the information and troopers have the right to refuse.

"But then they don’t have the right to remain a police officer," he said in May.

The union has received a court-ordered stay on such requests for records access until the legal matter is settled, DeFedericis said Wednesday.