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Ruling deals blow to liquor inspectors' bid to carry guns

A judge found that Oregon Liquor Control Commission inspectors are not cops and don't deserve their own union.

An administrative judge has dealt a blow to an effort by the state’s liquor inspectors to carry guns on the job.

Julie Reading, an administrative law judge for the state Employment Relations Board, has issued a tentative ruling rejecting a bid by a group calling itself the Oregon Liquor Control Commission Peace Officers Association to form its own union to win the right to bear firearms in their work.

Currently, OLCC inspectors have the power to detain suspects, make arrests and issue citations pertaining to liquor law violations. They carry pepper spray, handcuffs, batons and large flashlights. They wear a badge and can don body armor if they want to.

And they’re taking on major new responsibilities as OLCC takes on an oversight role of the legalization of recreational marijuana

But that’s not enough to justify forming their own union, Reading wrote in her Dec. 16 recommended ruling. The group believed that forming its own union would be the best way to bargain with OLCC management over whether they should be armed, just like regular police.

Right now, the same union represents inspectors and other employees: Council 75 of Oregon AFSCME, the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees.

The inspectors, however, enlisted the help of a national group, the Fraternal Order of Police, to bid to form their own union. They argued that their job has evolved to being very similar to police, and the anti-strike provisions applying to police officers under labor law should cover them as well. That would justify the group having its own union.

Reading agreed with inspectors’ claims that AFSCME hadn’t done a great job of advancing their concerns. “The evidence and arguments presented by both OLCCPOA and AFSCME indicate that there is a significant disconnect between the inspectors and enforcement technicians’ actual concerns and the issues AFSCME has advanced on their behalf,” she wrote.

But she found that despite beefed up training requirements the inspectors’ jobs haven’t changed all that much— and aren’t so essential to society that anti-strike provisions are appropriate.

John Mereen, a leader in the OLCC inspectors’ efforts, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did the Fraternal Order of Police or an OLCC spokeswoman.

The inspectors have 14 days to challenge the ruling, or it will be adopted unchanged by the board.