The Berks-Lehigh Regional Police officers filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the municipalities -- including Upper Macungie -- that voted to disband the police force.
On Monday night, members of the Berks-Lehigh police commission voted unanimously to dissolve the department as of Dec. 31, 2012. The action comes 11 days after Upper Macungie supervisors voted to leave the Berks-Lehigh force in order for the township to create its own as of Jan. 1, 2013. At that meeting, they also hired Edgardo A. Colon, the current station commander at Troop M state police barracks in Fogelsville, as the new chief as of Jan. 1.
One of the biggest points of contention has been that Upper Macungie pays the lion's share of cost for the police force but only gets a 25 percent voting interest.
James E. Gavin, attorney for the police officers’ association, objected to Monday’s decision, saying it was made with no regard for the officers or their families and without any discussions with them.
The police officers have a contract with the police commission through 2013, Gavin said. He filed the labor complaint against all four municipalities covered by the police force: Upper Macungie Township in Lehigh County and Maxatawny Township and the boroughs of Topton and Lyons, all in Berks County.
“You may disband this department at the end of 2012, but you have a contract to pay [the officers] through 2013,” he said. The police put their lives on the line for people in these communities but the police commission doesn’t have enough respect for them to let them know whether they’ll have jobs as of 2013, he said.
“I just don’t want these officers to go through the rest of the year not knowing what’s happening with their lives January 1,” Gavin said afterwards. “Are they going to be hired by Upper Macungie? Are they going to be laid off?”
Upper Macungie Supervisor Edward Earley, who chairs the police commission, said the commission’s labor lawyer will handle the unfair labor practices complaint. “It’s a legal question, it’s a difference of opinion at this point,” he said.
“It’s my understanding that we don’t have any legal obligation to accept the officers in Upper Macungie’s police force,” Earley said. “However, that being said, we have some excellent officers and we certainly would encourage them to apply for the positions. We realize it’s an awkward situation.”
Gavin, a Wyomissing-based lawyer, said he filed the unfair labor practices charges with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board last week. The next step is for the Labor Board to decide whether to issue a complaint against the municipalities. If it does, then a hearing will be scheduled. “The desired outcome is that all the officers are treated fairly,” he said.
Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Chief Roger Hein declined to comment on the commission's move to dissolve the department.