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State commission rules city short-changed cops

A decision made by the Washington State Public Employee Relations Commission was read into the record at last night's Sunnyside City Council meeting.

The issue was between the Sunnyside Police Guild and the city regarding take-home vehicles. The guild accused the city of unfair labor practices after the city enacted a policy in May 2012 that disallowed taking work vehicles home.

The commission's decision was in favor of the guild. It claimed that the city refused to bargain with the guild regarding the policy.

In its decision, the commission declared that take-home vehicles are a mandatory subject of bargaining, despite the use of city-owned vehicles not being mentioned in the guild's contract with the city. Because the city allowed employees to take home vehicles in the past, the commission said the city is required to allow that use of city-owned vehicles in the future.

As part of the city's actions to remedy the issue, Interim City Manager John Darrington read the decision into the record at the meeting. Darrington also said the city will have to pay $8,725 to the officers who were denied use of the city vehicles.

Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger said that he had considered objecting to the reading of the decision.

"It's abhorrent to me that an unelected bureaucratic body would tell an elected, legislative body what to do in a public meeting," he said. "Contrary to our attorney's advice, I don't believe PERC had the power to do that. The statute's pretty clear they have to go to Superior Court to get their orders enforced."

He said that it is done now, but he wanted the public to know that the take-home vehicles are an unbargained "gift" to city employees. He said it amounts to a $600 a month benefit.

Vlieger also said the council had asked the city manager to negotiate the issue, but it was clearly not handled properly.

He also brought up an example of employers providing a coffee machine, taking it away and then being told by the government that they had to put it back in.

"This is the same thing," he said. "A lot bigger, a lot more expensive coffee."

He concluded by saying it could have been handled better by all the parties involved, but he doesn't think the city did anything wrong.

Councilman Jason Raines asked whether the city's insurance policy covers the take-home vehicles and also asked how and where city vehicles are refueled. Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck said the insurance policy does cover the cars and that some fueling happens outside the city using credit cards.

Raines also asked which officers are receiving the reimbursement money. Interim City Finance Director David Layden read the officers' names, saying Robert Layman will receive $4,379, Joseph Glossen will receive $2,297, John Chumley will receive $336 and Jose Prieto will receive $1,443. At the meeting, Layden left off the name of Erica Rollinger, who will receive $268.

Raines asked if the difference in the amounts was due to mileage. Layden listed the mileage involved, saying Rollinger had listed 484 miles, Layman had 7,790 miles, Glossen had 4,128 miles, Chumley had 604 miles and Prieto claimed 2,590 miles.

Raines noted that the city is basically paying these officers to commute to work and that it was not something that had been put into a contract or approved by city council. It was simply something that had been allowed by staff and because it was allowed, state officials are saying the city cannot take it away.

Mayor Jim Restucci said he is concerned about the constitutionality of the decision by the Public Employee Relations Commission. He said the bigger picture is that the council makes decisions regarding city property but has to go through a process, yet a state agency has been allowed to declare what the city can do with city-owned equipment.

Raines pointed out that a vehicle owned by the city is not benefitting Sunnyside if it's parked in the Tri-Cities. He said there needs to be a reasonable limit to the use of take-home vehicles.

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