Here is a very simple formula that my Public Sector Labor Law professor gave us many years ago in law school:
Union official + speaking on an issue of public concern + discipline for speaking = a lawsuit the city cannot win
That formula is being tested in the Village of Johnson City, New York, where Union President Marty Meaney was suspended for 30 days for statements he made to the Mayor and the Village Board. On January 28, 2010 Meaney and the Firefighters Union filed suit in state court accusing Mayor Dennis Hannon of depriving Meaney of his 1st and 14th Amendment Rights and violation of New York State Labor Laws. The suit states that Meaney was exercising his right to speak frankly about issues that are of public concern, and the suspension was willful and intentional retaliation for exercising his fundamental rights. The suit seeks actual and punitive damages.
Not surprisingly Mayor Hannon holds an altogether different view of things. To him, this is one small skirmish in a battle to protect the interests of the Village of Johnson City. He feels that the Firefighters union is not working for the good of the people, and that the suspension relates to three statements that Meaney made on three separate occasions that were “insubordinate”.
On January 6, 2009, Meaney accused Hannon at a public meeting of making use of the Fire Department as what he termed his private “hacky sack’. He also accused him compromising the safety of the residents of the village by doing away with minimum shift strength. On September 11, 2009, Meaney stated publicly that Hannon was politically motivated when he investigated the destruction of the discipline records of the Fire Department. On November 17, 2009, Meaney accused the Village Board and mayor of risking public welfare and safety.
By the way, I have never heard this “hacky sack” metaphor used before – but I have to admit, I know exactly what Meaney meant. Some politicians do self-righteously believe that fire departments warrant a mean-spirited drubbing in an effort to save money. I wish I had an answer for how we get through to folks like that.