The Capitol Police engaged in an unfair labor practice when it unilaterally suspended the union’s collective bargaining agreement as the coronavirus pandemic began last March, according to a decision by an Office of Congressional Workplace Rights hearing officer.
The hearing officer, Bruce D. Rosenstein, found that when the Capitol Police suspended the collective bargaining agreement on March 19 and 20, 2020 , the department “abused its discretion in not following the terms of the parties’ agreement of giving notice and explaining to the Union why suspending the entire CBA was a true emergency that prevented collective bargaining between the parties.”
The order, issued on Jan. 29 but not made public until recently, directs the Capitol Police to negotiate with the union, rescind the agreement’s suspension and reinstate all provisions that were suspended.
The Capitol Police, which was then led by former Chief Steven Sund, made unilateral changes on employment conditions that included department operations, administrative functions, safety measures and methods of communication with union employees. Further, the department did not engage in any type of bargaining with the union from March 20 to June 15.
The department then proceeded to reinstate certain components of the agreement as the summer progressed, including instances in July and August. However, there were many provisions still suspended, including topics such as vacation and health and safety.
Rosenstein notes that the Capitol Police’s decision to reinstate parts of the collective bargaining agreement in July and August “undermines its position that there was a continued emergency in carrying out its mission that prevented collective bargaining between the parties.”
Further, Rosenstein said “it strains credulity that it was necessary for the Respondent to suspend over 40 articles and approximately 200 provisions in the parties’ CBA to carry out its mission when declaring the pandemic an ‘emergency.’”
Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement Monday that Sund, Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman and Assistant Chief Chad Thomas used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend his police officers’ union rights.
“In the middle of a pandemic, they suspended a Collective Bargaining Agreement that included important health and safety provisions for front-line officers,” he said.
Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, Papathanasiou called for a complete overhaul of department leadership, including Pittman and Assistant Chief Chad Thomas. Pittman, Thomas and five other top officials all received a vote of no confidence from officers, but congressional leaders have yet to follow through on the will of the union.
“This is the environment Capitol Police Officers have been working in for a prolonged period of time, with a leadership who refused to engage, to inform or to treat them with respect.” Papathanasiou said. “You can draw a straight line from this working environment to January 6th 2021, when Capitol Police Officers were left without vital information to prepare them for facing an armed insurrection at the Capitol.”
Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for the Capitol Police, did not respond to a request for comment.