Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mayor improperly interfered with discipline of Fire Captain

Arbitrator Mark Lurie has issued a decision sustaining a grievance filed by a Fire Captain over his demotion to firefighter. Miami-Dade Fire Captain Brian Beckmann authored a Facebook post concerning the Trayvon Martin case. The post was controversial and he was demoted as a result of it. Miami-Dade Fire Captain Demoted Over Trayvon Martin Post Fights For Old Job.

At the arbitration hearing contesting the demotion, the Fire Chief testified that he had initially determined that a 14 day suspension was an appropriate penalty. However before the discipline was imposed he received a call from the Mayor's office, communicating the Mayor's belief that Beckmann's employment should be terminated. In subsequent conversations, the Mayor and the Fire Chief agreed that Beckmann would be demoted to the position of firefighter. The Chief testified that he did not believe he had the authority to go against the Mayor's wishes.

The Union (IAFF Local 1403) challenged this decision. They argued that the County Administrative Orders, incorporated into the cba, vested the disciplinary decision in the Chief alone and that the Chief's decision was improperly countermanded by the Mayor. Agreeing with the Union, Arbitrator Lurie overturned the demotion, concluding:

  In sum, Chief Bryson testified that he had decided to suspend Mr. Beckmann but that Mayor Gimenez instructed him to issue either a discharge or demotion, and that he – Bryson – demoted Mr. Beckmann because he believed that, if he were to do otherwise, he would be fired or have to resign. Asked whether he had “objectively determined” that demotion was appropriate, Chief Bryson conspicuously evaded answering the question; he instead testified “I signed the letter.” Mayor Gimenez did not testify that the decision to demote Mr. Beckmann had been solely Captain Bryson’s, and reiterated that he – Mayor Gimenez – possessed the authority to have made the demotion decision himself. The only testimony in which Mayor Gimenez attributed the demotion decision to Captain Bryson was his statement that, “…we agreed on what the appropriate level should be.” Again, A.O 7-16 states that “Approval of the dismissal or demotion of an employee shall continue to be exercised only by a Department Director.”
The Arbitrator finds the testimony of both Mayor Gimenez and Chief Bryson to have been truthful and credible. Based upon their testimony, the Arbitrator finds that Chief Bryson believed that if he did not fire or demote Captain Beckmann, he would be discharged. That constraint upon Chief Bryson’s independent judgment constituted a violation of the parties’ CBA contractual intent for A.O. 7-3 and A.O. 7-16.

The Arbitrator instead determined that Beckman should serve the 14 day suspension initially determined by the Chief to be appropriate.

Noting the significant public interest in the case, the Arbitrator observed:

...  there was substantial public attendance at each day of the arbitration hearing. Most of those present were there to see justice done. The Arbitrator has neither the responsibility nor the authority to do justice. Nor was he engaged for that purpose. His role is to apply the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Were he to stray from that role in pursuit of justice, the victory would be short-lived; his decision would be overturned by the first reviewing court.

Fire Law blog reports on the case here, and links to the Arbitrator's award here.

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