The firing of a Butler County sheriff’s deputy has led to a debate on whether the union has the right to file a grievance over the action.
According to county court documents, Sheriff Mike Slupe on Dec. 21 fired Deputy Jessica Simons of Butler Township for allegedly attending district court hearings representing Adams Township police while on duty as a deputy.
Simons, who was a full-time employee, is accused of claiming to be on sheriff’s office duties while attending district court hearings wearing her deputy uniform and driving a sheriff’s vehicle.
The Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents sheriff’s deputies, filed a grievance on Dec. 28.
The SEIU maintains there was no just cause for the firing.
According to the grievance, “Disciplinary action should be corrective and progressive in nature and that employees should be apprised of the conduct requirements for violations of which they may be disciplined. There were no prior warnings or disciplinary actions taken against the grievant.”
Slupe denied the grievance. In a Jan. 8 letter, he informed the union that hiring and firing of his staff are not subject to the terms of collective bargaining, including the grievance and arbitration procedures.
The union then appealed the denial.
Slupe replied in a June 13 petition of Butler County court to stay the arbitration.
Judge Marilyn Horan last week ruled the court did not have jurisdiction to stay the grievance. However, the arbitrator has the right to agree with Slupe and dismiss the complaint.
Simons does not have a phone listing.
SEIU attorney Claudia Lukert declined to comment about the circumstances surrounding the firing.
“I can’t specifically comment on pending cases,” she said.
However, Lukert did say Horan made the right call allowing the grievance to head for arbitration.
“We agree with the judge’s decision,” she said.
Slupe referred all questions to his solicitor, Tom King of the Butler firm Dillon, McCandless, King, Coulter & Graham.
King said the arbitrator is likely to hear the whole case before even deciding whether a grievance is permissible.
If the arbitrator issues an award, the sheriff can take it back to court.
If the arbitrator sides with Slupe about either the issue of jurisdiction or that the firing was justified, the union or Simons can appeal the decision in court.
King would not comment on the grounds for the firing, but did explain Slupe’s position on challenging the grievance process.
King said state law stipulates officers whose jobs are created by the state constitution, such as sheriff, have the right to fire and hire at will.
He said the union has no standing to file a grievance in this situation, so the arbitrator should not make a ruling.
“You can’t get to the merits of the case,” King said.
He cited court cases in York and Warren counties that back up that argument.
King did not criticize Horan’s ruling, saying it was important for Slupe’s stance on the validity of the grievance to be recorded.
According to King, the union is arguing that Slupe was obligated to state he was reserving the right to hire and fire at will.
“Mike Slupe’s argument is that it was a standing position forever and a day,” King said.
King, who also was solicitor for retired Sheriff Dennis Rickard, couldn’t recall the union ever filing a grievance on behalf of a fired deputy before.
“There have been very few people fired,” King said about the sheriff’s office.
Rickard confirmed the union never sought arbitration when he released deputies.
“There never was a grievance filed,” Rickard said.
The SEIU’s choice to file a grievance didn’t surprise King.
“It’s been a somewhat contentious situation with the union,” he said.
King explained the union erroneously considers the sheriff’s office like any other.
“The sheriff has to run a law enforcement office,” King said.
He cited one example of how Slupe’s office differs is that employees from other areas of government can’t just transfer over as they might from one clerical job to another.