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House Labor Committee approves arbitration changes for police discipline

Among the package of bills being promoted by the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus to address how policing works in Minnesota is a bill that would revise how grievance arbitrations work for police officers.

Sponsored by Rep. Kaohly Her (DFL-St. Paul), SSHF72, as amended, would create a six-person arbitrator roster to hear grievance arbitrations for written discipline, discharge and termination of peace officers that arise under collective bargaining agreements. Members of the arbitration panel would be appointed by the governor.

It was approved by the House Labor Committee Tuesday on a party-line vote, and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. Its companion, SSSF82, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

The bill also contains language that would require arbitrators to complete training on racism, implicit bias and culture competency to qualify for the roster, and to continue to complete training on an ongoing basis.

Among those testifying in favor of the bill were two chiefs of police: Brad Wise of Coon Rapids and Mike Tusken of Duluth.

“Over the past five years, almost 50% of termination cases in Minnesota have been overturned by arbitration,” Wise said. “There’s a financial incentive to being chosen as an arbitrator. If you, for example, have ruled in favor of employers four times in a row, you probably won’t be accepted as an arbitrator by the other side. And that means that you lose work.”

Tusken spoke of a case in which an arbitrator ruled that a Duluth officer terminated for improper use of force must be reinstated.

“For cases in which you erode public trust, it can take years to regain that,” Tusken said. “We work so hard to build relationships and trust and it can be swept away in a moment. … Because we’re a monopoly and you can’t call another police department that you like better, we must maintain the public’s trust. We need a process in which there is a fair outcome.”

Some Republicans suggested that this is a problem solely in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“It is not a problem that’s specific to the metro area,” Tusken said. “The reality is we talk to chiefs in every corner of the state and they have the same problems.”

That didn’t dissuade Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) from saying, “I fail to see how this is going to affect my constituents.”

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