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We Shall Not Be Silenced POA Representatives Must Be Allowed To Address Their Members

September 1, 2017
Martin Halloran SFPOA President

On August 9, 2017, the Department sent me a letter acknowledging that POA representatives who attempted to address a line-up at Central Station that same date were barred from doing so by Department representatives. The letter stated, in part, that: "We (SFPD) will not allow POA representatives to attend and disrupt official Department business during line ups."

I was taken aback by this letter. POA representatives have been addressing their members at district station line ups for more than 50 years. Equally disturbing was the additional revelation that informational material for the members that was placed on the designated POA bulletin board at Central Station was ordered removed by the Department that same day. 

One of the primary roles of any union is to communicate with its members.  While technology has augmented that process, personal addresses to members at line-ups and postings on bulletin boards remain the fundamental methods of doing so.  Because our members work all over our city, on different shifts and assignments, the line-up is still the best opportunity for interactive exchanges between elected POA representatives and their members.  

These recent actions by the department appear to be a violation of our MOU with the CCSF, on top of being a violation of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (California Peace Officers Bill of Rights). Members of the POA have voluntarily joined the association. By doing so, each is afforded rights of representation which are not to be impeded upon by management. That right applies in particular to any message from the organization that is not authorized by the department or that does not suit them.  In free speech parlance, this is often called a prior restraint on speech.  Gag order fits the situation, as well.

I fear that Chief Scott’s subordinates may not have provided him with the most accurate information before the Department took its actions. This proved to be a disservice to him. If I had been able to speak with the Chief prior to the issuance of his letter, we more than likely could have resolved this matter within an hour. 

The lines of communication work both ways. In hindsight, I should have tried to by-pass his administrative “firewall” and speak directly with Chief Scott.  The issue is important enough to do so. I can’t accept a gag order on your representatives’ obligations to communicate with you, regardless of how temporary that prohibition might be. 

Of course, all communications must be respectful, and they cannot interfere with Department operations.  Representatives must follow the terms of the MOU with respect to what they post on bulletin boards.  As long as these rules are followed, representatives shall be unfettered in going about their business of representing the membership—even where the issues are controversial, or disfavored by the Department.

Where are we now with this? 

After the Department announced its ban on addressing line-ups, the POA immediately filed a Step IV grievance, demanding expedited arbitration in order to resolve this issue.  We continue to push that forward.

As of this writing, I have met with two SFPD Assistant Chiefs (not the Chief), two attorneys from the CCSF, and the Employee Relations Director from the Department of Human Resources for the CCSF. We have made little progress, and our members suffer.  

As we try to resolve these issues with the Department, the POA position is simply this: 

The membership shall be heard, and their voices shall not be silenced. 

The POA is continuing to take other steps to get our messages to our members, regardless of the directive from the Department.

Stay tuned. This is not resolved.