Labor Pains

Steven Grammas
Steven Grammas

To be clear, I am not talking about the process of bringing a new life into this world. This article is going to focus on the issues that we are experiencing related to our current Labor Relations Department. I would like to start by saying that I do like the folks who work in that office. If you ever have the chance to stop in and chat with them, they are quite nice. I have had conversations with them in the past and have worked on some issues with them that have turned out to help some of our members. What we are currently having issues with is the apparent control over discipline that Labor Relations has or has been given.

From the LVPPA standpoint, it appears that commissioned supervisors are no longer allowed to make decisions related to discipline. It appears from our side that no one is allowed to go against what Labor decides. This fact becomes even more painfully obvious when we file a grievance on a case for an officer. During the meetings with either the captains or the chiefs, we are routinely told that they need to check with Labor before they make their decision. This is a whole other issue, as we believe it violates your CBA regarding the grievance process. We believe the CBA gives the person hearing the grievance the sole authority to make the decision to overturn discipline or whatever matter gave rise to the grievance.

There should always be some mitigating factors associated with these cases when they are warranted. Sometimes, officers screw up. It happens. We all know it. Sometimes we go into an IAB interview and have our officers “fall on the sword” because they know they messed up. However, all we have recently observed is aggravating factors to increase discipline on our officers. I have rarely observed a mitigating factor of “Officer has several commendations for X, Y and Z. Officer has volunteered several hours in the community. Officer has received employee of the quarter for their area. Officer has no discipline in their file.” But we sure see plenty of “Officer has been on the Department for X years and should know better. Officer has received training in this area. Officer has acknowledged POs and GOs about this topic. Officer is responsible for knowing policy.” These are factors that apply to everyone every day, yet when they want to justify bumping your Written to a Suspension, they use these vague factors to increase punishment. I am hard-pressed to find a situation where an AOC has said, “While the Matrix says this offense starts at a Written Reprimand, we have applied some mitigating factors to reduce to a Supervisory Intervention.”

Now, I can’t put it all in the lap of Labor. Although it is a challenging process to go against Labor’s decision, supervisors need to step up and say, “I appreciate the decision of Labor; however, I am going to make my decision on discipline, and I will justify that decision to anyone on the Department.” I don’t feel this happens often. It does happen on occasion, and I wish I could commend those supervisors who have done it, but I do not want to put anyone’s name in this article. You know who you are, and we greatly appreciate you. Most of the time, however, it appears easier to just go with Labor’s recommendation and let the officer fight the case through their grievance process. Kelly Sweeney was hired by the PPA and serves as our labor director. She used to be the director of Labor Relations for LVMPD for many years. She absolutely cannot believe how often Major suspensions are being used currently. When she ran Labor, those cases were saved for the worst-of-the-worst discipline. We now have an officer getting their duty belt stolen from their car, without their firearm, and getting 40 hours with no option! A victim of a crime gets the same discipline as an officer who actually commits a crime? I don’t care what realm of “progressive discipline” they are trying to apply. Full disclosure: This officer has two documented levels of discipline in their file. But neither of them is even remotely related to being a victim of a crime. If I have two conduct issues and then I am a victim of a crime, how can anyone say I should keep progressing in discipline for being a victim of a crime? We believe the punishment should fit the crime. If you want progressive discipline for conduct issues, or even continual performance issues, as long as they are similar, feel free. At least we could understand that progression. But a conduct, a performance and then a victim of a crime? I can’t find the nexus of those three incidents. Yet these are the decisions and offers coming out of Labor these days.

What about accountability? When officers show accountability for things, they still get the full force of Labor. The loose interpretation of the Discipline Matrix and where things can fall is also being abused. If say you have an excessive use of force, the Matrix puts you in a certain line item. However, they can slide you out of that line item into another because the first offense for use of force is a Written, but line item 6 can allow me to give you a Suspension. It is disheartening to me how discipline gets decided, and also the fact that supervisors are not free to make their own decision when hearing a grievance, but rather they, a captain or a chief, have to check with Labor to see if it is OK. That, to us, is not OK.

The positive side is that, while I have had issues with disciplinary decisions being made, Sheriff Lombardo and Undersheriff McMahill have been extremely open to conversation and have helped me try to get a better outcome in some of the serious issues we have. I wasn’t sure I would ever be saying this back when I took over as president, but those two have been far more helpful than hurtful. I don’t expect them to have their thumbs on every single issue going on at LVMPD, nor could I be expected to know every little thing the rest of the staff at the PPA does. But when I have needed help, I have received it — and, in turn, our officers have benefited from it. This was my hope when I took over: that we could open up communication with 100 and 101 and get matters resolved. And that is exactly what we have done.

The direction in which Labor is steering discipline, however, is very tough for me to sit back and watch. To be clear, my issue is not with IAB. IAB does the investigation and presents their findings. I may have some issue with the IAB process, but in the end, they do their best to simply provide the facts of the case and submit them to Labor and the Chain of Command for what discipline is to be administered. It is the process of deciding and administering the discipline that I have the issue with.

Hopefully, this didn’t sound like a segment of “The Rant” from Fox 5. But I feel you all need to be informed about how some of the discipline coming out is being decided. Too much power and authority is being given to Labor Relations, as opposed to the commissioned supervisors of our Department.

As always, if there is anything you all need from me or the rest of the PPA team, please just reach out to us.