Sunday, October 27, 2013

Seniority, past practice, vacation selection and a police department reorganization

Arbitrator Harry MacLean has issued an award rejecting a grievance filed by the Denver Police Protective Association claiming that the City of Denver violated officers' seniority rights when it changed the unit in which officers selected vacations.

Prior to the change, the Denver Police Department had been divided into six districts. Officers selected their shift and regular days off on the basis of district wide seniority every 28 days. Once a year officers selected their vacation for the coming year, also on a district wide basis. Under the direction of a new Chief, the police department reorganized the districts into twelve teams. Each team had a regular shift and set days off for a twelve month period. The officers in each district bid by seniority onto  a team, and vacations were selected based on seniority within the team rather than within the district. The Union grieved the change, claiming that it violated the terms of its bargaining agreement. The contract provided:

Throughout the department, voting in each Bureau/District shall be by seniority in rank. ... Division chiefs may permit voting within individual units subject to the approval of the Deputy Chief of the affected area of Operations or Administration. The Chief of Police may establish exceptions to this rule as he deems necessary for the efficient operations of the department.

The Union maintained that the past practice of the parties had limited the definition of "individual units" to specialized units such as SWAT, and argued that the definition was limited to units as they existed when the most recent contract was adopted. The City, however, pointed to language in its Police Department manual defining a unit as "any number of officers ... regularly grouped together under one head to accomplish a police purpose."

Initially Arbitrator MacLean concluded that the Union had not established that the practice it claimed was "unequivocal", and that the Union had not established that the City had agreed to the limited definition suggested by the Union. The Arbitrator also noted that the City's Charter "is quite clear" in retaining the right to manage certain aspects of the Department. The Charter prohibits bargaining on police department staffing, the number of shifts, and the assignment of work to officers.

Arbitrator MacLean noted:

     [T] City has a right as it sees fit to organize the police department, to staff the police department, and to assign work to police officers. Any provision in the CBA which seeks to limit or restrict these rights is invalid as contrary to Section 9.8.3(C)(ii) of the Charter.

 The Union argued that it was not challenging the right of the City to reorganize the districts into teams, but only the manner in which vacations were selected under the new structure. Arbitrator MacLean determined, however, that the team concept would be "decimated" if officers were allowed to select vacations on a District wide basis. He concluded:

The Chief was clearly acting within the authority reserved to him in the Charter to reorganize the department. The new team models are sound and unquestionably beneficial. The language of the CBA provisions cannot reasonably be read in such a way that it in fact nullifies this otherwise legitimate exercise of managerial authority.

CBS Denver reports on the award DPD Reorganization Upheld, and links to Arbitrator MacLean's award here.

The issue of "nondelegable" rights is discussed in a previous post Arbitration, Management Rights and Public Policy.

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