It turns out, according to a June 23 report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, that more than half of Minnesota cops who get fired, then appeal their terminations, don’t get their jobs back. Same for unionized teachers, nurses and firefighters.

That’s not good enough, says Star Tribune columnist D.J. Tice (“Arbitration win rate for fired cops, if you stop to think, is high,” July 14).

Tice concludes that either 1) police chiefs are too casual about terminating cops or 2) arbitrators are too casual about second-guessing chiefs’ decisions.

He’s wrong about both police chiefs and arbitrators.

With his recurring argument that unions prevent police chiefs and cities from firing rogue cops, Tice refuses to let the facts get in the way of his story.

First, it’s important to remember that police unions don’t always challenge disciplinary decisions, including terminations. Collective bargaining spells out the disciplinary process and is mutually agreed upon by the employer and the union. These agreements are designed to reduce the potential for disagreements. And they work, for the most part.

Most police chiefs know and understand the purpose of collective bargaining. After all, most police chiefs started out as rank and file officers. And, fortunately, most police officers meet and exceed the high standards they are held to and serve with distinction.

Arbitration in a disciplinary matter is a tool of last resort, when neither side can reach an agreement despite good-faith efforts.

Tice cites the February Minnesota Supreme Court decision that effectively reinstated a fired Richfield police officer as another example of union power run amok. But his criticism ignores key facts of the case.

This “ruffian in uniform,” as Tice calls him, was found not to have used excessive force. And, let’s not forget, the arbitrator did impose discipline on the officer for his failure to properly document the incident in question.

By arguing that cities and police chiefs should be able to fire officers without their decisions being challenged through due process, Tice is effectively calling for the end of collective bargaining and the end of union protections as we know it.

On behalf of our more than 6,300 sworn police officers, 911 dispatchers, corrections officers and firefighters, we respectfully disagree. Thankfully, so did the Supreme Court.

 

Sean Gormley is executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services.