By amtrak_russ [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Metra and its police chief have been accused of retaliating against an officer for working on behalf of a police union, according to a lawsuit filed in Chicago federal court.
The Metropolitan Alliance of Police (MAP), a union representing more than 5,000 police officers, and Joseph Kresch, president of the union chapter representing Metra police officers below the rank of captain, are suing the regional commuter rail service and Metra Police Chief Joseph Perez on charges of violating the Railway Labor Act and of retaliation for the exercise of freedom of speech and association.
The suit claims Metra investigated Kresch on suspicion of falsifying payroll records because he had visited the UPS store where the union keeps a mailbox during working hours. According to Kresch’s complaint, the store was within Kresch’s beat and the total time he spent in the store was about 11 minutes spread over nine different occasions. It argues that he was taking permitted “breaks” when he visited the store and that he actually worked more hours on those days than he was paid for, even when taking breaks into account. Nonetheless, the suit says, Kresch received a 10-day unpaid suspension and was placed on a two-year “last chance status” under which he can be fired for violating any rule, no matter how minor.
Kresch claims Perez also refused to allow him to work a second job at the Fox River Grove Police Department, though no Metra police officer has ever before been denied a request for secondary employment. He further claims Perez contacted union members when Kresch was running for re-election as union president and urged them to run against him or to vote for another candidate.
According to the lawsuit, these actions were in retaliation for Kresch’s activities as union president. Over the past four years Kresch has represented about 50 of the union’s 92 officers in Metra disciplinary investigations and filed nearly 40 separate union grievances against Perez and Metra, including accusations of discrimination against African Americans, older employees and the homeless; complaints of unsanitary working conditions at the Blue Island Metra Police Station; and a complaint that Metra was illegally restricting officers’ ability to earn an income through off-duty jobs, according to the complaint.
Kresch is suing Perez both individually and in his official capacity as chief, claiming Perez infringed on his right of free speech and his right to associate with the union. He claims Perez’s actions were motivated by a desire to silence and punish him and to discourage officers from joining the union.
The union and Kresch together are suing Metra and Perez in his official capacity, alleging they restrict officers’ ability to hold down second jobs, restrictions they say violate the Railway Labor Act. By imposing new rules without going through the collective bargaining process, the suit claims, Metra and Perez “have attempted to destroy the union.” The union and Kresch are also suing over Perez’s alleged attempt to influence the union election.
Kresch and the union are asking the court to issue an injunction prohibiting retaliation against Kresch, interference with the union or harassment of union representatives; to require Metra to go through the collective bargaining process before imposing agreements regarding pay, rules or working conditions; to award unspecified compensatory and punitive damages; and to award court costs.
MAP and Kresch are being represented by attorney Steven Calcaterra, of Naperville. They have requested a jury trial.