Everett cop’s firing shouldn’t be made into a labor battle

You can get it on a bumper sticker — “Unions: The Folks That Brought You the Weekend.” I have never belonged to a labor union, but I like that slogan.

Snohomish County has a rich, storied labor history.

Nearly 95 years ago, on Nov. 5, 1916, Everett earned a dubious distinction. When t

he Industrial Workers of the World came by boat to the city’s waterfront where shingle weavers had been on strike, shots were fired. Two deputies and five “Wobblies” were killed in the fracas now called the Everett Massacre. It was the bloodiest battle in Northwest labor history.

To this day, our region’s labor history is being written. We’ve recently seen news of a National Labor Relations Board complaint, alleging that the Boeing Co. was punishing Machinists for striking when the company chose South Carolina for its second 787 production line.

Many questioned the wisdom of the 57-day Boeing Machinists’ strike in 2008, when the nation was sinking into recession. Whatever your views, that strike involved wages, pensions, bonuses and health care — compensation for jobs workers do.

Courageous battles have been fought over pay and hours, fairness and working conditions. What about fighting for a job badly done?

If a worker disregards employer policy to the extent that a life is lost, is that worthy of a labor battle?

That’s exactly what we’re seeing in the Everett Police Officers Association complaint over the firing of Troy Meade. The union filed its grievance July 1, claiming Meade was disciplined without just cause and in violation of its contract with the city.

It’s an ugly and inexplicable new chapter in Everett’s labor history.

Meade shot Niles Meservey to death in 2009. The Everett officer shot the drunken man, who was in his car outside the Chuckwagon Inn, seven times from behind. In 2010, Meade was acquitted of criminal charges related to Meservey’s death. The jury found in a civil decision that the shooting was not self-defense.

Police Chief Jim Scharf, before his recent retirement, let Meade know in a blunt letter dated June 30 that his job was being terminated “for unacceptable misconduct.”

The police department has been more than fair. In the two years Meade was on leave after the shooting, the city paid him at least $168,004.81, plus picked up the $240,000 tab for his criminal defense. In February, the city agreed to pay Meservey’s daughter’s $500,000 to settle a lawsuit. City bills also show a half million dollars spent on legal advice on how to extricate the community from this mess.

Now the city could find itself paying to defend Meade’s firing before a state arbitrator.

Scharf’s letter was long, but there’s one key sentence: “In particular, you failed to comply with the requirements of Section 15.4 of the Everett Police Department Policy Manual, entitled ‘Use of Deadly Force.’ “

The letter details when use of deadly force is warranted. It mentions the department’s “priority of protecting and preserving human life.”

Most workers are subject to employers’ policies. The more critical those policies are to the essence of our work, the better we should know and heed them.

The Washington Post Company, which owns The Herald, has a “Code of Business Conduct.” Violations of it “may result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.” I’d expect to lose my job if I violated company tenets, or ignored journalistic ethics.

The state Department of Health routinely reports the names of doctors, nurses and other care providers whose licenses have been revoked or suspended due to unprofessional practices.

Employer policies are there for solid reasons. Some policies guard information, resources or reputations. And some protect lives.

If Meservey’s shooting had happened clearly within bounds of the police department’s “Use of Deadly Force” policy, the story would be different. A union fight on Meade’s behalf would be a righteous one.

As I said, I’ve never been a union member. If I belonged to the Newspaper Guild and blatantly plagiarized this story, would anyone expect the union to stand up for me?

Standing up for worker rights is one thing. Being blind to right and wrong is something else entirely.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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