ALFRED — Citing insufficient evidence, the Maine Labor Relations Board has dismissed two prohibited practices complaints filed against York County by the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents York County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

According to the MLRB decision, the FOP had alleged that the county, and particularly the York County Sheriff’s Office, violated the Public Employees Labor Relations Act by retaliating against certain employees for their union-related activity and that the county’s actions interfered with the free exercise of activity protected under the labor act.

The MLRB disagreed.

“While it is clear that there is an acrimonious labor management atmosphere between the union employees here and senior management at the Sheriff’s Office, the (MLRB) is unable to conclude that the employees’ protected activity was a motivating factor for the county’s actions in this case, given the bulk of undisputed evidence,” the 3-member MLRB concluded in their July 24 decision. “Additionally, given the reasonable, nondiscriminatory bases for the county’s actions, and the lack of a nexus between those actions and any protected activity, the (MLRB) does not find sufficient evidence that the county’s conduct at issue in this case could be seen as reasonably tending to interfere with the sheriff’s office employees’ rights under the (labor act). Though the board does not endorse the management approach of the sheriff’s office, the apparent hostility in labor-management relations does not at this point rise to the level of illegal conduct subject to remedial action by the board.”

The MLRB reviewed a number of prior incidents – including the manner in which a suicide investigation was handled by sheriff’s deputies, but considered four specific issues within the two complaints, according to the 36-page decision.

The board considered whether the county violated Maine labor statutes by inquiring with the Attorney General’s Office whether further investigation into Deputy Travis Jones and Sergeant Mathieu Nadeau was warranted regarding how they handled a crash investigation involving Jones’ vehicle; by requiring Sgt. Nadeau to write a “term paper” on a two-day training he received; whether they improperly subjected Deputy Robert Carr, Jr. and Sgt. Steven Thistlewood to internal investigations and whether they violated labor statutes by denying Carr’s request to participate in an assignment involving a confidential informant.

The MLRB reasoned that given conflicting reports as to the cause of the crash of Jones’ vehicle, it was reasonable that York County Sheriff William L. King Jr., would seek advice about launching a further investigation, and that the evidence presented indicated the sheriff’s inquiries were at a preliminary stage.

Among a number of factors, the union pointed out that Jones was elected vice president of the union on a Friday in June 2017, and that the sheriff’s inquiry to the Attorney General’s office came the following Monday. The MLRB pointed out that timing, on its own, is insufficient to support a finding of discriminatory motivation. The MLRB said it was unable to conclude that the timing of the sheriff’s contact was indicative of a retaliatory motive.

As to the internal investigation of Thistlewood and Carr, the MLRB found that the union had not met its burden of proof to demonstrate a connection between the action and the officers’ protected activity.

“The initiation of these investigations was reasonable given the unusual circumstances of Thistlewood’s approval of Carr’s overtime for an out-of-state operation while Thistlewood was out on vacation and the lack of specific notice being given to on-duty command staff,” the MLRB wrote. “The most compelling evidence suggesting an improper motive for the investigations is that the other officers involved in the operation were not investigated. The significance of this disparity dissipates in light of the fact that command staff was aware of and had already approved their participation in the operation.”

The MLRB found the suspension of a confidential informant policy with respect to Carr did not constitute unlawful interference. The decision notes that Carr was the only non-federal agent to be denied participation in confidential informant operations, and the
suspension of the policy was reasonable given senior management’s stated intent to modify the policy.

The “term paper” Nadeau was required to write similarly does not cause a reasonable inference of interference, according to the decision.

“The record only shows that Nadeau received such an extensive leadership training, and the requirement to summarize the training was framed by management as a mutually sought skills-building exercise to improve Nadeau’s performance as a supervisor. This cannot be reasonably said to have interfered with employee’s rights under the (labor) Act.”

“Unions and employees have the absolute right to file complaints and the county and the Sheriff’s Office completely respects those rights,” said King when asked for comment on the decision. “It is up to the Maine Labor Relations Board to decide if the complaints are valid or not and in this case, the decision speaks for itself.”

Deputy Robert Carr, president of the local for the Fraternal Order of Police, referred questions to FOP Labor Specialist Jack Parlon.

“You live with what you live with,” said Parlon about the decision. He said that in the end, he believes the MLRB realized there are some “serious issues with the labor relations environment in York County.”


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