In a move that its members had telegraphed for close to two weeks, Denver City Council rejected a collective-bargaining agreement struck by city officials and the Denver police union.
"I am not in support of this because I don’t feel like council was represented in good faith at the table," council president Stacie Gilmore said at the September 14 council meeting. Councilmembers voted eight to five against the agreement.
Gilmore had already complained that council wasn't included in the negotiating process in a meaningful way at a September 2 safety committee meeting, where other members echoed her concern. Others argued that the agreement should not include a guaranteed raise for police officers in 2022, even if the police made financial concessions in 2021.
"I don’t see it being very realistic or equitable for us to have a proposal in front of us to save $5 million in one year and then be on the hook for $9 million in another year," Councilwoman Jamie Torres said at the committee meeting.
Council's rejection now sends the city and the Denver Police Protective Association back to the bargaining table. If the two sides can't come to a new agreement that will be acceptable to a majority of Denver City Council members, then the negotiations will head to binding arbitration.
City council is likely to be much more of a presence at the next round of negotiations, since it's guaranteed a seat at the table. Owing to an apparent oversight by Hancock administration staffers, it was not represented during the first two days of negotiations in the initial round. After the city realized the omission, a council representative began attending the negotiations on day three.
The rejected contract called for a salary freeze in 2021, with officers losing holiday pay and the city reducing its contributions to retiree health fund contributions next year — but it also stipulated a 2.77 percent salary increase in 2022.
"It’s not fair that we’re going to approve something for those officers in 2022 that the rest of our employees aren’t getting," Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said at the September 14 meeting.
Councilmembers who voted to approve the agreement argued that binding arbitration, which calls for a single best offer from each side and an arbitrator then choosing one or the other without compromise, will lead to a less desirable deal for the city.
"I'm concerned that we could be in a worse budgetary situation if we don’t approve this," said Councilwoman Kendra Black.
Mayor Michael Hancock echoed that sentiment in a statement sent out shortly after the vote, which marked the first time in recent memory that Denver City Council had rejected a collective-bargaining agreement with the police union.
“The agreement presented to City Council was the best deal possible on behalf of our taxpayers and the officers who protect them, balancing the sacrifice public servants must make during an economic downturn with our chartered responsibility to public safety," Hancock said. "Tonight’s decision by Council is not only short-sighted and irresponsible — it also puts city employees and services further at risk of layoffs and cuts, and shows a total disregard for police officers who are willing to share in the sacrifices required by our current budget situation."