Two labor groups representing nearly 290 city employees, including six police lieutenants, want assurance from the Columbia City Council they will not be fired without cause.
Attorneys for the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 773 and the Columbia Police (MO) Lieutenants’ Association gave brief presentations during a meeting Monday. The two unions said it would be an act of good faith if the city accepted their proposals.
The police lieutenants, six of seven in the department, in the association do not want the city to change their employee status from classified to unclassified. A switch to unclassified would make them at-will employees who can be terminated at any time for any reason.
Don Weaver, a former Columbia police officer and an attorney who represents the lieutenants union, said his clients fear losing their job if they report misconduct or if a high-profile event puts the department under intense scrutiny.
Switching them to unclassified, he said, would eliminate their whistleblower protection and their right to a hearing in front of the department’s Personnel Advisory Board in the event of a firing. Making the lieutenants unclassified employees would be going back on what they were told when they took their promotions, Weaver said.
Stacy Ettel, a former lieutenant for the University of Florida Police Department, was on hand to speak about his personal experiences. Ettel said his unclassified position allowed him to be scapegoated after a high-profile case.
In 2010, Ettel ordered officers to enter the apartment of a suicidal graduate student who had cut off contact with police for 90 minutes. Nonlethal force was unsuccessful, and an officer wound up shooting the male student twice; the man lived. Ettel said the university terminated him to appease months of demonstrations against police brutality.
“You’re setting up the lieutenants to be the fall guy,” Ettel told the council.