Sheriff Unlawfully Meddled In Union Affairs And Retaliated Against Union President

Written on 02/03/2024

Deputy Sheriff Derrick Kruser began working for the Madison County Deputy Sheriff’s Office in 2017, and immediately joined the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. In 2020, Kruser became the Association president. In April 2020, Kruser requested a meeting with Sheriff Todd Hood to discuss union issues. At that meeting, Hood told Kruser that the best thing the Association ever did was to disaffiliate from the New York State Union of Police Associations (NYSUPA). Kruser explained that the Association was in fact still affiliated with NYSUPA. Hood told Kruser that the Association would not get a good contract if NYSUPA was involved in negotiations and explained that the jail employees recently obtained a good contract because they were not involved with NYSUPA.

The Association’s contract was expired at the time of this meeting; Kruser took Hood’s comments at face value and proceeded to negotiate a new contract without the involvement of NYSUPA. After the new contract was ratified, Kruser learned that other municipalities received better raises, and regretted not involving NYSUPA.

For years, Kruser had worked as a firearms instructor. After the April 2020 meeting, Kruser learned that he had been removed from that position, which to his knowledge only occurred as a form of discipline. Kruser requested another meeting with Hood to discuss union issues. At this meeting, Kruser questioned his removal as a firearms instructor, to which Hood provided various, inconsistent explanations. Kruser also raised an issue where the County cancelled his order of a new uniform shirt despite giving prior approval. Days later, Kruser was counselled by command staff for violating the chain of command policy for discussing these issues directly with Hood, who did not agree that these were “union” issues.

The Association filed unfair labor practice charges with the state labor board alleging that Hood retaliated against Kruser for his protected conduct as Association president by issuing the counselling memorandum. Additionally, the Association alleged that Hood improperly interfered with Association business by suggesting that it would obtain a better contract without the involvement of NYSUPA.

The Board agreed. Analyzing the counselling memo, it rejected the County’s argument that Kruser should have raised his concerns through the ordinary chain of command, because they were personal complaints and not “union” business. The Board found that the parties discussed several issues relevant to the Association, and that the meeting did not lose its “union” character simply because Kruser raised issues concerning him personally. Furthermore, the Board’s precedent “clearly emphasizes the breadth of protection afforded by the Act to employee speech and the expression of opinion regarding employment issues, particularly statements made by representatives of the employees’ bargaining agent.” The County’s argument would inappropriately limit that protection.

The Board also found that Hood improperly attempted to interfere with Association business by suggesting that it not involve NYSUPA in upcoming negotiations. It rejected the County’s argument that Hood’s statements about the NYSUPA alone could not be proven to have had an effect on the Association’s designation of negotiators, because the mere attempt to do so violated the law regardless of its success.

Madison County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Inc., Case No. U-37492, 56 PERB ¶ 4555 (N.Y. Pub. Employee Rel. Bd., 2023).