Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen joins Denver Public Schools students as they march east down Colfax Ave. after they gather at Civic Center Park and then march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue at City Park in support of Black Lives Matter on June 7, 2020 in Denver, Colorado.

A collective bargaining contract agreed upon on by the Denver Police Department’s union and Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration was kicked back to the negotiating table on Monday night after a narrow 8-5 vote by the Denver City Council.

This is the first time in recent memory that the city council has rejected a police union contract proposal, since police were granted collective bargaining rights in 1995. 

Against the contract were council members Candi CdeBaca, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Hinds, Paul Kashmann, Robin Kniech, Amanda Sandoval, Amanda Sawyer and Jamie Torres. Behind the deal were Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Kevin Flynn, Chris Herndon and Debbie Ortega.

Most council members made clear earlier this month they would be voting down the two-year contract on grounds that police officers would receive a 2.77% pay increase in 2022 as city employees have not only been forced to take furlough days this year — a hardship not felt by law enforcement — but also have not been promised a forthcoming pay boost.

Issues were also raised around whether the contract was negotiated in “good faith,” as required by the city charter, due to an alleged exclusion of the council’s involvement in the negotiating process, in addition to the fact that council members lack even an inkling of what is included in the 2021 budget, which will be presented by Hancock on Tuesday morning.

“We’re being asked today to vote on something without all of the information in front of us,” Sawyer said. “If we are asked to do this and if our employees are asked to take furlough days or are not going to receive cost of living adjustments, then it’s not fair.”

“As we look off into the future, it’s a pipe dream to think that revenue will miraculously jump back to pre-pandemic proportions where money is flowing and we can be assured we can properly honor our workforce with the salary increases they need and deserve,” Kashmann said.

Hancock condemned the council’s decision in a statement Monday night.

“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,” he 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.”

As is written now, the bargaining agreement would suspend salary increases for 2021, halt holiday pay provisions for 10 holidays and reduce the city’s annual contribution to the Denver Police Retiree Health Fund by $360,000. But what would be taken away in 2021 would be restored in 2022.

The agreement shows not only a nearly 3% pay raise that year, but also the creation of a one-time 100-hour bank to be used like vacation leave.

Flynn defended the contract, arguing that the pay cuts officers are taking next year will save the city about $5 million and would amount to the "financial equivalent" of the eight furlough days required this year for city employees.

Hancock told council members in an Aug. 14 letter that, absent the $5 million in savings, other city agencies would be "forced to make even deeper cuts to meet the Charter requirement for a balanced budget, and the City would see greater adverse service impacts, additional employee impacts or both." 

The Hancock administration and Denver Police Protective Association will meet the City Council back at the drawing board, where they will restart negotiations. If they can't come to an agreement, an independent arbitrator will decide for them. However, if the deal is still not agreeable to both parties, then they will have 15 days to reach an agreement, and that decision can supersede the arbitrator’s decision.

Flynn, Clark and Ortega all expressed concerns that the city could suffer if the contract goes to arbitration. 

"It is my belief, based on what I have seen, that turning this back will lead to further cuts, which will further impact furlough days for the rest of the employees in the city," Clark said. "I sincerely hope that ... everyone works really hard to make sure that I was wrong and that, in fact, we don't end up in a worse financial position for our career service employees by turning it back." 

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