Deputy Sheriffs Union Sues Four Contra Costa County Supervisors for Alleged Retaliation Threat

The Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association sued the county and four members of the Board of Supervisors in federal court in San Francisco today for allegedly threatening retaliation for the union’s participation in a petition drive.

The petition, sponsored by several county employee unions, called for a referendum on a 33 percent pay raise that board members voted by a 4-1 majority to give themselves in October.

Today, in the face of the petition, the board gave final approval to a law rescinding the raise.

But Jim Bickert, a labor representative for the deputy sheriffs’ union, said the cancellation of the raise didn’t make any difference to deputies’ decision to sue.

“Our clients are offended that government officials would seek to stifle their free speech rights,” Bickert said.

“They are also concerned that their future bargaining rights will
be impaired,” he said.

The lawsuit is based on claims of violations of the deputies’ constitutional free speech rights and a state law requiring public employers to bargain in good faith in employee contract negotiations.

It asks for an injunction barring the supervisors from retaliating against the union in contract negotiations or employment terms. The suit also seeks a financial award.

County spokeswoman Betsy Burkhart said the county administration and county counsel’s office do not comment on pending litigation.

In addition to the county, the lawsuit names as defendants the four supervisors who voted for the pay raise: Karen Mitchoff, Mary Piepho, John Gioia and Federal Glover.

Supervisor Candace Andersen, who is not named in the lawsuit, voted against the raise, which would have increased the board members’ salaries from $97,483 to $129,227 per year.

The lawsuit alleges that Piepho and Mitchoff made specific comments in December that threatened retaliation for the union’s participation in the drive to gather petition signatures.

It alleges that Piepho told former union president Ken Westermann during a meeting on Dec. 11 that the association “made a bad decision and it is not going to end well for you guys.”

The suit also alleges that in a telephone conversation on Dec. 19, Mitchoff told Bickert that the supervisors had been committed to a salary increase for the deputies but that as a result of the referendum, the deputies were not going to receive the raise.

Mitchoff allegedly told Bickert, “I’m only going to be around for the next four or eight years. But the DSA is going to suffer for many years to come,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not attribute any statements to Gioia or Glover.

A case management conference on the lawsuit is scheduled for April 23 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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