Police union sues Huntington Beach over labor negotiations ordinance

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Huntington Beach’s rank-and-file police union has sued the city, alleging that an ordinance the City Council approved last year is impeding the officers’ ability to negotiate a new contract.

The Huntington Beach Police Officers Assn. lawsuit, filed Nov. 3 in Orange County Superior Court, contends that the December ordinance, which seeks to bring more openness and transparency in labor negotiations, doesn’t follow state law and creates delays in a new contract.

The ordinance, similar to one Costa Mesa adopted in 2012, requires Huntington Beach to hire an independent negotiator for its employee contracts. Contract offers and counteroffers, as well as their financial impacts to taxpayers, must also be made public.

The union’s lawsuit also contends that if Huntington Beach is going to have an openness ordinance, city officials have to follow the state’s Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act, commonly known as CRONEY.

CRONEY, which was backed by unions before its adoption in 2015, requires governments to disclose more about their contract negotiations with private companies.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates on Monday said CRONEY doesn’t apply to Huntington Beach because it is a charter city that’s not preempted by state law for its labor contracts.

The association’s suit seeks to repeal the ordinance or modify it so it comports with CRONEY.

“The POA is not against transparency,” Robert Wexler, the association’s attorney, said Monday. “We’re not seeking to prohibit the city from being transparent to the citizens.”

Wexler said while City Hall informed the 237-member association about the ordinance’s requirements ahead of time, it did not give proper notice about some of its components, in turn violating the association’s right to meet and confer.

“The ordinance also has the effect of making things very cumbersome,” Wexler added. “It’s adding time delays, which was inappropriate. It has also taken off the table the ability to negotiate mandatory subjects of bargaining.”

The association sent a letter to the city in February calling the ordinance inappropriate. The city, through Gates, responded by stating that it “completely disagrees” with the association’s analysis.

Gates on Monday said the council will decide at a future meeting how the city will proceed with the case, but he is prepared to fight it.

“There’s some stuff in this complaint that I don’t think is very strong,” he said. “We’re still taking a look at it, but there are obviously a couple issues … the city has a great relationship with the POA. We just believe that on this issue they’re not correct.”

brittany.woolsey@latimes.com

Twitter: @BrittanyWoolsey

http://www.latimes.com/socal/hb-independent/news/tn-dpt-me-hb-poa-suit-20161107-story.html