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Mayoral candidate: Police, fire endorsements are conflict of interest
Brad Bates for Mayor
Turlock mayoral candidate Brad Bates said that public safety endorsements are a conflict of interest. - photo by Journal file photo

Election season is heating up and with it comes candidate endorsements from local officials, dignitaries and unions. Turlock mayoral candidate Brad Bates is eschewing the tradition of seeking endorsements from local public safety unions, however, stating it is a conflict of interest.

Bates sent letters to both the Turlock Professional Firefighters and the Turlock Associated Police Officers asking to be withdrawn from consideration for endorsement.

“I believe unions, including public safety unions, have a productive purpose and provide beneficial representation to their members. I do not, however, believe that in the case of public safety representation, that function should extend to union endorsement of specific candidates and the delivery of financial, political and manpower support in local, non-partisan elections,” Bates wrote in his letter to the Turlock Firefighters.

He went on to say that he sees a “clear conflict of interest” in the unions providing support to individuals who, if elected, would then be responsible for determining salary, benefits and working conditions for the department personnel.

“You take that kind of contribution with no expectation what so ever? I don’t think so,” said Bates.

Turlock Associated Police Officers and Turlock Professional Firefighters have a history of endorsing the two other mayoral candidates, Amy Bublak and Gary Soiseth, and have contributed money to their respective campaigns.

Both the police and fire unions supported Bublak in her races for Turlock City Council seats in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

While Bublak says the endorsements haven’t swayed her votes on the Council, she questions the role the Mayor has played in recent public safety union contract negotiations.

“With several issues of potential/perceived conflicts of interest on the Council, political pressure on the Police Chief, contentious negotiations with the police union, and new fire positions filled while police are at catastrophic levels... Union big-money donations by the firefighters has come up. I’ve been on council and have been endorsed by both police and fire multiple times and have been ethical in my actions.  Even when I was a police officer in my first term I chose to recuse myself from the hiring of my then chief, Roy Wasden,” said Bublak.

“As a council member I’m only one fifth of the votes. I’ve not put myself in compromising positions such as offering to unilaterally sit at salary negotiations that are ongoing. And that is why I’m advocating the mayor should not sign our contracts etc.,” she continued.

Both the police and fire unions also endorsed Soiseth in his first mayoral campaign in 2014.

“Regardless of which candidate the local fire and police unions choose to endorse, I remain committed to working hard for them and I believe the restoration of our police and fire departments to pre-recession levels over the last four years shows this,” said Soiseth. “I will continue to support our talented public safety officials and the tremendous work they do if I’m afforded the opportunity to serve another term.” 

Recently the role of unions in the political realm has come under scrutiny, following a Supreme Court ruling in June that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions.

The decision has been labeled as a blow to organized labor by many collective bargaining groups and upends laws in 22 states. The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the State of Illinois, challenged the requirement that government workers who opt out of a union still have to pay partial dues to cover the union’s cost of negotiation and other functions.

The Supreme Court in 1977 drew a distinction between mandatory “agency fees” and other, voluntary union dues which can be used for lobbying or other political activity, but the recent decision nullifies that distinction. The court found that negotiations are inherently political, and nonmembers cannot be compelled to pay for them.