KRWG

Goodman: In Las Cruces Area Labor Dispute, Employees Win- But Why Did The County Keep Fighting?

Oct 29, 2017

Credit peter goodman

  Commentary: The state supreme court has mercifully ended the County's appeal of an adverse arbitration result; but questions persist.

 

The DASO deputies' union prevailed in a compulsory arbitration in August 2016. The County appealed to district court. Judge Manuel Arrieta, in a thoughtful opinion, affirmed the arbitrator's decision in January. Modern courts give great deference to arbitration results. Such results are difficult to overturn if any evidence at all supports them. 

 

That should have been it.

 

The parties differed by $780,000. Appealing had already cost both sides a lot. Further appeals were unlikely to succeed, and would cost more. And would deepen the rift between Deputies and Commissioners. We don't have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but we do have to work together.

Deputies were leaving to make more money elsewhere. That wasn't the only reason people were leaving. Several of the 11 officers leaving DASO for LCPD told their new employer or me they were leaving because of Undersheriff Ken Roberts. (I think one took a pay-cut.) But as I wrote then, “county residents deserve reasonably capable law-enforcement, and should, within reason, pay for that. I don't mean give in to any and all demands; but when a federal arbitrator tells you in an 86-page decision and Judge Arrieta agrees, maybe it's time.” 

 

Meanwhile, deputies getting stiffed saw high county officials get big raises. 

 

The County appealed to the Court of Appeals – which was so unimpressed that it tried to affirm summarily. That is, “This one looks easy. Union should win. Don't waste resources on further briefing or oral argument.” The Court called the Arbitrator's 84-page decision “thorough and thoughtful.” Still, the County filed a memorandum opposing summary affirmance. Filed more papers. Lost.

Reading the Court of Appeals decision, I thought Vegas odds-makers would favor the Union by six or seven touchdowns at the next level. But the County petitioned for certiorari. The Supreme Court promptly denied the petition, letting the Court of Appeal decision stand.

 

The Commission is left looking like a small child being repeatedly told “No!” and given cogent reasons why not, but insisting anyway – or just screaming pointlessly in frustration in the corner.

Regarding the long-shot petition for cert, the commission did a weird dance – after several closed meetings, the three newest commissioners tried to suspend the rules to reverse themselves. They needed a fourth commissioner to agree, but neither Ben Rawson nor Billy Garrett would do so. Exemplifying the deputies' view, Union President Benito Casillas said Rawson “claims to be pro public safety, and yet his actions don't support that.” Too, the three newer commissioners must at some point have voted for the petition, or there'd have been no need for a redo. 

 

I asked commissioners “Why?” and didn't get convincing answers. One said that the arbitrator had overstepped his bounds by awarding more than the County had authorized; but Judge Arrieta's decision disposed of that issue, and the Court of Appeals didn't bother really addressing it, but praised Arrieta's work. Clearly the Supreme Court sure wasn't going to get excited. 

 

Rawson mentioned that Deputies were “getting paid to bargain.” He said that violated the anti-donation clause. But negotiating a peaceful resolution of a public union dispute does serve the community, and I believe deputies were only paid half-time for that work. Houston reportedly pays police negotiators their full salary. And an Arizona Supreme Court case decided the same issue in favor of the Phoenix police union.

 

This is not Doña Ana County's finest hour. I'll be interested in whether the deputies get decent interest on their back pay. They should.