April 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Disciplinary Matrix Mandatory Subject of Collective Bargaining; Balancing Test Applied

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its decision in Denver Firefighters Local No. 858, IAFF, AFL-CIO v. City & County of Denver on August 16, 2012.

Preliminary Injunction—Collective Bargaining—Discipline as a Term and Condition of Employment.

Defendants, the City and County of Denver (City) and Alex J. Martinez, the Manager of Safety (Manager), appealed from the trial court’s order granting a preliminary injunction in favor of Denver Firefighters Local No. 858, IAFF, AFL-CIO (Firefighters). The judgment was affirmed.

Firefighters are City employees subject to the supervision and control of the Manager, who is appointed by the Mayor. In 1971, Denver voters passed an amendment to the City Charter granting Firefighters the right to collectively bargain with the City over certain working conditions. The parties have had a collective bargaining agreement every year since the amendment. The current agreement (Agreement) has been in effect since January 1, 2010 and expires on December 31, 2012.

The instant dispute arose from defendants’ proposed unilateral creation and implementation of a discipline matrix for Firefighters, which does not have such a matrix but does have a system for imposing discipline that has been in place for decades. The discipline matrix would change the current system. The issue presented was whether defendants may do so without first negotiating with Firefighters.

In October 2010, the Manager indicated a desire to form a Discipline Advisory Group (DAG) to create a discipline matrix. Firefighters responded that a discipline matrix is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. The Manager did not reply.

In March 2011, the same sequence of events occurred. In May 2011, Firefighters learned that the DAG had been created and would start holding meetings. Firefighters attended the first meeting to assert that the matrix was a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. Defendants disagreed and continued with their process to create the matrix.

Firefighters then filed this action requesting the issuance of a preliminary injunction. The trial court granted the motion and issued an order enjoining defendants from implementing a disciplinary matrix without first negotiating with Firefighters. Defendants appealed.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the proposed discipline matrix is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. The parties had no previous negotiated provision on discipline, so the Court looked to the Charter. Under the Charter, discipline is a subject of management authority; however, the Charter also makes discipline, as a term and condition of employment, a subject of collective bargaining. Each side argued that the Charter provision upholding their position should control. The Court looked to numerous cases from other jurisdictions and chose to apply a balancing test that weighs the impact that mandated collective bargaining on the subject will have on each of the parties’ interests. If the balance falls in favor of the employees, the subject is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining; if the balance falls in favor of the employer, it is not.

Here, in weighing the impact on each party, the Court concluded that the balance falls in favor of the employee and that discipline thus is a mandatory subject of bargaining. Accordingly, the order for a preliminary injunction was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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