S.D. Supreme Court decides some police sergeants can’t be in bargaining units

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the state Department of Labor determination that sergeants in the Yankton Police Department are ineligible for membership in a collective bargaining unit because they have authority to hire or effectively recommend hiring decisions.

Chief Justice David Gilbertson wrote the court’s unanimous decision that was publicly released Thursday. The justices overturned a ruling by Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering, who had said that sergeants didn’t have that authority. The case is Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Yankton.

Wrote Gilbertson: “As it pertains to hiring, SDCL 3-18-1(2) excludes employees ‘having authority in the interest of the public employer to hire,’ or ‘effectively recommend such action,’ if it is not ‘merely routine or clerical . . . but requires the use of independent judgment[.]’ The critical inquiry is therefore whether sergeants exercise ‘independent judgment.'”

In Yankton, he said, “Much of the hiring process involves objective criteria (i.e. the standardized test, obstacle course, and background check). But the interviews provide an opportunity for sergeants to use their independent judgment to move candidates forward. The informal interviews involve an intuitive decision by a sergeant and a patrol officer to move a candidate to the formal interview stage. Then, the formal interview requires the panel members to rank the applicants through a detailed scoring process. That process requires sergeants to assess the candidates and score them from one to five, without deviating more than two points from the other panel members’ scores…. The structure of the interview process and the lack of a subsequent independent investigation shows that a sergeant’s independent judgment is preeminent in the hiring process.”

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