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Police union, city argue case before mediator

The union says that city decisions on grievances are final and that the police chief violated the police contract. Not true, says the city.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- In a rare disagreement with police supervisors and Chief Goliath Davis III, city labor officials recommended this summer that an officer get his job back.

But Davis refused to rehire Officer David Sugar, who was fired for allegedly lying during an internal affairs investigation.

For three hours Tuesday, the city and police officers' union squared off before Tampa mediator Richard P. Deem.

Sugar's discipline was not the issue, though that will be appealed at an arbitration hearing in January. Instead, the city and union disagree on whether grievance decisions by city labor officials are binding.

The union says that city decisions on grievances are final and that Davis violated the police contract when he refused to comply with reinstating Sugar.

Not so, said city labor relations manager, Julie Upman.

"I, of all people, would know that," she testified.

Upman has worked in the city's labor relations department for 16 years. She presented cases from the 1980s and 1990s when police chiefs reversed or upheld decisions by her department and the union did not complain.

"The only time they've ever complained is under Davis," said the city's labor attorney, Thomas M. Gonzalez.

The mediator is now is charged with interpreting the section of the police contract involving the grievance procedure.

The process for appealing police discipline goes like this: Within 10 working days, the union files a formal written grievance. That goes to the city labor relations office. There is a hearing. The case can go to arbitration after that.

Ironically, Upman and an assistant, Rose McCormick, issued the decision in the Sugar case. They said they did not find convincing evidence suggesting Sugar lied about another officer's use of force. Upman and McCormick recommended that Sugar be rehired with back pay and benefits.

Union attorney Hal Johnson pointed out that the police contract does not contain any reference to the term "recommendation." The contract says nothing of a chief's authority to overrule the city labor officials' decision, nor does it describe a procedure for a chief to follow should he decide to reject the decision, Johnson said.

The mediator is expected to issue a binding ruling on whether the city violated the contract by Jan. 10.

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