Burlington Police Higher-Ups Withdraw Petition to Unionize | Off Message

Burlington Police Higher-Ups Withdraw Petition to Unionize


  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
Burlington police sergeants and lieutenants are no longer seeking to form a collective bargaining unit.

The New England Police Benevolent Association had filed a petition to unionize on behalf of the department's 15 sergeants and lieutenants on March 3. The petitioners and the city were scheduled to appear before the Vermont Labor Relations Board at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

On Wednesday, however, the officers' attorney asked the labor board to cancel the hearing and withdraw the petition, effectively closing the case — for now, anyway.

"They retain the ability to file another petition and litigate the issues in the future, if they choose to go that route," assistant city attorney Justin St. James wrote in an email to Seven Days.

Neither Tom Horgan, the officers' attorney, nor Burlington Det. Sgt. Rich Weinisch, a point person for the union drive, immediately responded to interview requests Wednesday evening.
The city had opposed the officers' petition, arguing in earlier filings that such a union would be "problematic" because lieutenants serve as sergeants' direct supervisors. Additionally, the labor board ordered such higher-ranking officers out of the existing police union, the Burlington Police Officers' Association, in 2001 “because they are supervisory employees,” the city wrote.

The request came as the city continues to reckon with issues of police oversight following a summer of protests over police violence. Last September, the city offered a $300,000 buyout to sergeant Jason Bellavance, one of three officers accused in ongoing excessive force lawsuits.

Despite public pressure — including a monthlong occupation of Battery Park — the city did not pursue separation agreements with the two other officers because their union contract protected them from further discipline, city officials said at the time. A subsequent city council effort to introduce stronger civilian oversight of the department failed when Mayor Miro Weinberger vetoed the measure.
In recent days, Battery Park Movement activists took to social media to demand that city officials oppose the officers' attempt to unionize. In an Instagram post on Wednesday, the activists wrote that police don't belong in the labor movement, charging that police unions "insulate police from public scrutiny + accountability" and "obstruct efforts to reimagine public safety that reduce harmful reliances on police."

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