By Emil Kezerle
Business Agent/Coordinator, Upper Michigan Office
1342 U.S. Highway 2, Crystal Falls, Michigan 49921
906-875-4990 – 800-361-1269
The Norway Police Officers Association is currently experiencing a situation that, in the future, could become a trend that may potentially impact more of our smaller locals in the Upper Peninsula. Here is a brief synopsis of the circumstances.
The current collective bargaining agreement between the City of Norway and the Norway Police Officers Association is effective until July of 2007. For a number of reasons, the Norway City Council (more specifically the mayor) has threatened to eliminate the Norway Police Department and its four members, and contract with the county for law enforcement services. As its justification for such action, the City cites the costs associated with the wage and fringe benefit package currently protected by the collective bargaining agreement that were negotiated and ratified by the City and the Association. The City now feels that such wages and benefits are not something they wish to continue providing. Even more troubling is the fact that this newfound concern with the City’s bottom-line appears to have arisen only after the City failed to terminate the police chief. Since losing that battle in arbitration, the City turned its attention to eliminating the police department altogether. In the eyes of our members in Norway, this was unacceptable.
The City asked the Association to sit and discuss the terms and conditions of the current contract one year prior to its expiration. This concept is not necessarily something we would automatically close the door on, as every situation is unique. In the Norway situation, however, the City stated that it did not intend to withdraw its pursuit of possible elimination of the Norway Police Department even if the Association was willing to sit and discuss concessions. The members opted not to participate under these circumstances.
Through a number of resources, including a brief face-to-face meeting with the mayor, the mayor’s position and motivation were quite transparent. In an effort to ascertain the formal positions of the other Norway council members, the Norway Police Officers Association put together a brief, professionally-prepared survey for each council member. Each council member was asked about the elimination of the Norway Police Department. None of the surveys were returned.
Facing possible elimination, the Norway Police Officers Association recently initiated a recall action against the current mayor of Norway. The process began with members of the Association passing petitions around the community in an effort to obtain the minimum number of signatures required. This was accomplished, and the recall will formally appear on the November ballot.
While I don’t have a crystal ball that will reveal whether the November recall will be successful, I am certain that the Norway Police Officers Association intends to engage in a public awareness campaign as the election draws near. The members of the Norway Police Officers Association have made a collective decision to stand for what they believe is right and just.
I believe this is a shining example of the potential strength that every local represented by the WPPA has, with the appropriate guidance and support. It demonstrates that, collectively, our members don’t have to lay in the corner and hope for the best under the threat of elimination. What is happening in Norway is what should occur when local government bodies act as though they’re not accountable to those whom they were elected to serve.
On another note, the UP Law Ride 2006, sponsored by the Thin Blue Line of Michigan, recently held its annual tour in an effort to raise funds for the organization. Although the ride was well attended, this year’s event was impacted by a near tragic traffic crash involving one of the lead bikes in the ride.
Reserve Deputy William Starbird of the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Department suffered very serious injuries when his cycle collided head-on with a pick-up truck pulling a fifth wheel. The incident occurred in the UP’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
It should be pointed out that Deputy Starbird, at the expense of his own time, volunteered to participate in this event to assist in the effort of raising funds for police officers in their time of need. “Taking care of each other” is a concept that comes to mind in this terrible situation.
The latest information available indicated that Deputy Starbird is to be transferred from the regional medical center in Marquette to a facility closer to home. Our thoughts, prayers, and many thanks go out to Deputy Starbird and his family.
Stay safe and enjoy the fall season.