The city of Edinburg has removed a lawsuit filed by one of two police unions in the city that alleges discrimination based on union activity from state court to federal court.
The Edinburg United Police Officers Association filed the lawsuit, which claims Chief Cesar Torres demoted several officers after taking the job of top cop here because they opposed his proposal to open the unexpired collective bargaining agreement to allow Torres to hire outside the Edinburg Police Department for the assignment of assistant chief.
The litigation involves several police officers who are seeking arbitration, reinstatement to their positions and pay they lost when reassigned.
In a May 21 response, the city of Edinburg denied all of the allegations levied in the lawsuit while asserting government immunity from the litigation.
The Edinburg Police Organization, the city’s other police union, has criticized the lawsuit and distanced itself from the litigation.
“There are two (2) unions in Edinburg. Us (represented by the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas) and EUPOA (represented by the Texas Municipal Police Association),” the Edinburg Police Organization board of directors said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Our three (3) year contract with the city expires this year which means this year the bargaining union (EUPOA) should start negotiating with the city for (the) next contract, instead they chose to sue The City of Edinburg and Chief of Police.”
The Edinburg Police Organizations’ president, Carlos Romero, previously told the newspaper that he doesn’t think the litigation actually represents the wishes of members of the Edinburg United Police Officers Association and characterized the lawsuit as a personal vendetta, which the union’s board of directors echoed in a statement published on Facebook after The Monitor broke the news about the filing.
“The lawsuit was over a personal vendetta a very small group has against the Chief of Police but in doing so they have tainted the relationship with our local government which will affect not only members of their union but everyone as an employee,” the Edinburg Police Organization’s board of directors said in the statement. “Their own members have said they never voted to use the union name on this lawsuit. For those family and friends that know we are part of the Edinburg Police Organization, we did not have anything to do with the lawsuit and we don’t represent it. We only have the best interest in mind for our members and ALL employees.”
In a statement released in early May, Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, which represents the Edinburg United Police Officers Association, pushed back against those characterizations.
“Since early 2019, EUPOA board members have been subjected to adverse job actions due to their decisions and allegiance to EUPOA. Four of those board members received legal representation through TMPA, and as pointed out in the lawsuit, the actions against two of theme were eventually corrected either through the civil service appeal process of through the courts,” Lawrence said in the statement.
However, Lawrence says two other officers have not received due process.
“Their avenue of appeal was to file grievances under the collective bargaining contract,” Lawrence said in the statement. “It is very important to understand that the last step in that grievance process is to go to arbitration. Both appeals went through the process and neither was resolved, so the union made the appropriate requests to take both to arbitration, and the city has steadfastly refused.”
In its response to the lawsuit, the city says the allegations are not arbitrable.
“By refusing to arbitrate these grievances, the city has committed a breach of contract, and the only legal recourse now available is this lawsuit,” Lawrence said in the statement. “As attorney David Willis has stated, the city can make the lawsuit go away by simply agreeing to comply with the terms of the existing contract. The due process of any officer associated with any union should be protected and defended. Any infringement on any officer’s right to that due process hurts all officers. TMPA and EUPOA will always support and defend our members’ rights.”
Lawrence also addressed collective bargaining in his statement.
“A question has been raised about the timing of this lawsuit, how it might impact the renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement which is supposed to happen this year,” Lawrence said. “The answer is simply, what good is the contract at all if one party is free to simply ignore and violate it when they choose?”