Published : Monday, November 18, 2019 | 6:37 AM
An administrative law judge said he found the testimony of two Pasadena Fire Battalion Chiefs “inherently unbelievable” regarding a petition circulated supporting Fire Chief Bertral Washington.
“I find that circulating the petition indeed unlawfully interfered with both employee and union rights,” Administrative Law Judge Bernard Rohrbacher wrote in his 69-page ruling.
The conflict began after Washington supported a decision to not allow Pasadena firefighters to wear black armbands honoring three firefighters who died fighting fires in 2017.
Two of the firefighters died while fighting fires in Northern California.
Firefighter Jeremy Stoke, 37, died while fighting the Carr fire. Firefighter Brian Hughes, 33, died after being struck by a falling tree while battling the Ferguson fire, near Yosemite National Park.
In a Southern California incident, Long Beach Fire Captain David Rosa was fatally shot when he rushed into a burning senior citizens home on June 25.
The union objected to Washington’s decision and issued a press release.
“The Pasadena Firefighters Association, Local 809, is deeply dismayed by the refusal of Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington to allow Pasadena firefighters to wear mourning bands to honor the recent line of duty deaths,” the statement read. “In the recent past, Pasadena firefighters have been permitted to wear mourning bands for fellow firefighters who died in training accidents or from medical conditions while on duty.”
Washington was criticized on social media for not allowing the armbands. He eventually reversed his decision.
Shortly thereafter, a petition in response to the Union’s press release was circulated by two battalion chiefs in support of Washington, according to documents.
The union said the petition was derogatory toward the Local’s leaders and membership and had been distributed in a coercive way.
In the Nov. 7 written decision, Administrative Law Judge Bernard Rohrbacher found the Pasadena Fire Dept. violated the law governing collective bargaining for public employees — the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act — by circulating the letter/petition among union members, “in a manner that tended to coerce them to sign it and to, thereby, side with management against Local 809.”
The petition, according to Rohrbacher, falsely claimed that “organized labor groups negotiate and speak for the majority of the members represented,” as opposed to representing all Local 809 bargaining unit members.
In a Nov. 14 statement, Local 809 President Scott Austin expressed satisfaction with the ruling while adding, “I am disappointed that the Fire Department unlawfully went out of its way to confuse our members, not be truthful to the City and refuse to protect its employees.”
The judge’s penalty is an order to not circulate petitions in such a manner again. The City is also obliged to post a notice to employees regarding the ruling for 30 days.
The City Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling, which can be appealed.