Petaluma settles union busting claim

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Petaluma officials last month settled an unfair labor practice claim filed against the city, while denying allegations that the city attorney attempted to intimidate union members to force them to disband.

The charge, filed Sept. 18 with the California Public Employee Relations Board, alleged that City Attorney Eric Danly, who has worked for nearly five years as Petaluma’s in-house counsel, attempted to coerce employees to vote to dissemble their union and give up their collective bargaining power.

It also alleges that Danly used derogatory and offensive language in front of employees in the union, including using the “N word” in the presence of Lisa Rogers, a legal assistant who is black. It states that he managed staff with an “aggressive and boorish style” and used profanity including f---, though it made employees uncomfortable.

The settlement required Danly to write a letter of apology and attend a labor relations training with City Manager John Brown.

The union at issue represents 41 employees, according to the complaint. Danly’s alleged anti-union campaign was believed to have begun in August, according to the claim. Brown said contract negotiations were ongoing at that time.

A formal complaint against the city was issued by the labor board on Dec. 14, and the city denied those allegations in a letters on Nov. 20 and Dec. 22.

Danly and Brown continue to refute the union busting and mismanagement claims.

“This has been for me personally, without a doubt, the most difficult experience of my working life, which is why the city council’s support and John Brown’s support has meant so much to me,” Danly said. “We maintain that the allegations of some kind of conspiracy to deny employees their right to representation or to interfere with that right is factually false and there’s no basis for that whatsoever.”

The city incurred about $18,000 in associated costs, and settling precluded further expenditures of city funds, Danly said. The settlement was announced Feb. 26 at a council meeting.

“My primary interest in this is union peace,” Brown said. “We could have challenged this, we could have fought it a lot longer. I think the allegations are thin at best, I don’t agree with them. I don’t agree with the results of the settlement, but that having been said, I understand where the union is coming from on that.”

Conversations about the decertification process were prompted after Danly learned that William Shurtz, a human resources specialist who has since resigned from his post, intended to approach union members about disbanding, according to a Nov. 20 rebuttal letter from an attorney retained by the city. Danly provided details about the decertification process, but there was no intimidation, according to Samantha Zutler of Los Angeles-based law firm Burke, Williams and Sorenson. Shurtz later resigned and filed his own labor charge against the union, though Danly was not aware of the filing, Danly said.

The union’s charge was allegedly filed an hour before a city council meeting where Danly would be advising the panel and where a discussion about his employment contract was on the agenda, Zutler wrote.

“The charge was clearly filed to smear Eric Danly, a longtime public servant who is not at the table during union negotiations and would likely have no role in decertification action,” she wrote.

An outside lawyer also conducted an investigation into allegations of misconduct, confirming that the derogatory racial language had been used in a story told by Danly, but concluded there was no merit to other allegations, Brown said.

“Eric’s work style is collaborative and he wants to make sure that everybody is included,” Brown said. “I don’t find him to be boorish – that’s just not a term I would use to describe Eric. He’s considerate of other people’s feelings, almost to a fault, and this is a really unfortunate situation that in my view isn’t really reflective of who Eric Danly is as a person.”

In Danly’s apology letter to Rogers, he stated that he is “sad and truly sorry” the story containing the explicative made her “feel like anything other than a valued, respected and important member of our team.” The city maintains that those allegations were outside of the scope of the labor charge and were intended to “smear” Danly.

Danly said he had quoted another person’s use of the racially-charged language in a story about his college-aged son, who is in a music industry program where he works in part with hip-hop artists. Danly intended the story construe a “hopeful and positive message,” he said.

As part of the terms of the settlement, the city will post notice of the settlement agreement in employee areas and the break room at City Hall.

No racial harassments claims have been filed against Danly, Brown said.

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