Politics

Federal Court Orders Capitol Police to Negotiate With Officer’s Union

Legal battle has roots in stalled talks over new contract, terminations

A federal court ordered the Capitol Police department to negotiate with the union. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal court has ordered the Capitol Police back to the bargaining table with the officers’ union.

In a decision last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted a petition to make the department and the union negotiate a new contract, while dismissing the Capitol Police’s appeal over whether the union could challenge employees’ terminations through arbitration.

The issue at hand in the court decision emerged during bargaining between the department and the U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee in 2013 for a new contract. The two parties diverged on whether officers should have a right to arbitration if they are terminated. Negotiations came to a halt in 2016 over the issue. Capitol Police employees are currently working under a 2010 contract that expired in 2013 but remains in effect until the parties can negotiate a new one.

“Termination is the worst possible discipline the department can take against an employee. It is important that the department be required to demonstrate to an outside party that its actions were fair and in compliance with the law, like every other federal agency,” Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said.

Arbitration is the final step in a lengthy process for settling grievances, including when officers assert they have been wrongfully terminated. The current contract covers a range of “matters” that are included in the procedures for settlement of grievances. Termination of employment is not one of the 15 matters excluded from arbitration.

Capitol Police wanted to change the grievance process, to remove the final step of arbitration from termination cases. The union wanted to keep termination of officers open to arbitration. Negotiations between the two parties came to a halt when the Capitol Police contended that the union’s proposals were nonnegotiable and refused to continue, according to court documents.

The union petitioned the Office of Compliance, the entity charged with administering the Congressional Accountability Act, which governs workplaces in the legislative branch. The OOC board ordered Capitol Police to re-enter negotiations with the union. The department petitioned for a review of the OOC’s decision.

While the petition was pending, Capitol Police continued to refuse to negotiate with the union.

“The Police does not dispute that it has not complied with the bargaining order,” court documents read.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dismissed the appeal brought by the Capitol Police against the OOC board, citing lack of jurisdiction. It granted the OOC board’s petition to enforce the decision to compel the Capitol Police to negotiate with the union.

“This decision is a big victory for our members,” Papathanasiou said, adding that he is looking forward to sitting down to negotiate with the department soon.

Papathanasiou told lawmakers at an oversight hearing earlier this year that some of the key issues of disagreement between the department and the union include “ignoring legally binding arbitration rulings” and “ignoring decisions by the Office of Compliance.”

The Capitol Police is “reviewing the decision and its options,” department spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.

The appellate court’s actions were focused on a broad ability of officers to engage in arbitration when challenging a termination. But two individual officers’ cases are moving through the system now.

Capitol Police Officer Andrew Ricken challenged his termination, beginning in July 2013. He engaged in arbitration, and his termination was reduced to a 30-day suspension and lost wages and benefits. A year later, Ricken had not been reinstated or compensated. The case has now been elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and is awaiting judgement.

Christopher Donaldson was terminated by Capitol Police in 2015 and challenged his dismissal. After going through the grievance process and arbitration, the arbitrator decided that Donaldson should be reinstated, but subject to a 30-day suspension and a two-year “Last Chance Agreement.” He was also awarded back pay. The department challenged the arbitrator’s award, and the case is awaiting a court decision.

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