The Pueblo County Sheriff's Office must recognize the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 837 as the sole collective bargaining representative for PCSO officers, the Colorado Division of Labor Standards and Statistics (CDLSS) recently ruled.

The ruling upheld an unfair labor practice lawsuit filed by the IBPO in April alleging that Pueblo Sheriff David Lucero violated a new state law allowing some workers in Colorado counties to unionize.

The IBPO filed the complaint after contacting Lucero to begin negotiations. In response, the sheriff argued that the law conflicted with his authority as sheriff under Colorado law.

In its CDLSS ruling, the union noted that the law, called the Collective Bargaining by County Employees Act (COBCA), recognizes county sheriff's employees as employees of the county and grants them the right to join and be represented by organizations of their choosing and to bargain collectively with their employer over wages, hours, and other working conditions.

The ruling, dated July 8, states that PCSO's refusal to negotiate constitutes an unfair labour practice that is illegal under the COBCA.

It was also found that the PCSO and Lucero personally “refused to and did not perform the duties incumbent upon them by law.”

The department ruled that the PCSO will be fined a minimum of $100 for each day the violation continues due to the “violation, omission and refusal.” However, the department decided to suspend this penalty pending “immediate corrective action.” Specifically, the ruling states that a date and time for negotiations must be offered to IBPO Local 837 within two weeks.

Union leaders react to “historic” ruling

“This is a momentous day for officers of the Pueblo County Sheriff's Department,” said Vince Champion, regional director of the IBPO, in a written statement.

“While our members are pleased with the Colorado Division of Labor Standards and Statistics' decision, we should not have needed to involve them considering Sheriff Lucero is required by law to negotiate with Local 837. Our deputies put their lives on the line every day to protect our community. Now they finally have a strong voice in shaping the policies and working conditions that affect their safety and effectiveness.”

Brad Riccillo, president of IBPO Local 837, called the decision “historic.”

“This will go a long way in helping all counties in the state of Colorado get the rights they are entitled to under the law. Not just sheriff's offices, but all county employees, because that is the goal of the law,” Riccillo said.

Through collective bargaining, IBPO Local 837 seeks to “work with Sheriff Lucero and the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners to achieve better wages, hours and other working conditions,” IBPO’s press release states.

Riccillo explained that one of the union's next steps will be to conduct a wage study to compare PCSO wages with those of comparable agencies, and then negotiate on that basis.

He stressed that the purpose of the state's bill is to promote a harmonious relationship between county employees and employers.

“This law is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace and public safety, because that is what we are doing it for – the safety of the people,” Riccillo said.

What Lucero had to say about the verdict

In a statement provided to the Chieftain, Lucero said proposed dates for initial negotiating meetings would be sent to IBPO representatives next week and talks would begin in the next 30 days.

“As always, my intention is to fully comply with the law and seek clarification on any unclear parts of the law,” Lucero said in the statement.

“The department's decision allows us to move forward with the clear assurance that both sides will negotiate in good faith on salary, benefits and working conditions, but neither side will be compelled to agree to or accept the other party's proposals.”

Lucero noted that “there is still the possibility that either a court or the state legislature will clarify what impact the COBCA law should have on law enforcement.”

“Should any relevant government agency make a clarification or reinterpretation of the law, I will fully comply with such changes,” he said.

“In the meantime, I want to express my appreciation for the hard work and diligence of all employees of our Sheriff's Office. I will continue to advocate for them every day in my role as Sheriff and welcome the negotiation process as an additional method to determine how this office can continue to treat its employees with the respect and appreciation they deserve.”

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