Miami-Dade ordered to restore demoted firefighter’s rank

An arbitrator ruled the county violated a union contract by demoting a firefighter over a Facebook post regarding the Trayvon Martin case.

04/24/2013 3:28 PM

04/25/2013 12:33 PM

A Miami-Dade firefighter demoted last year for ranting on Facebook about the Trayvon Martin case should get his captain’s rank back, an arbitrator has ruled, rebuffing Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who had insisted on the punishment.

Brian Beckmann had been demoted two ranks, from captain to firefighter, after posting about Trayvon, the unarmed Miami Gardens teen who was shot and killed in an Orlando suburb in February 2012. In his post, Beckmann referred to “urban youths” as the products of “failed, sh--bag, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents.”

Beckmann filed a union grievance disputing the demotion. In a pair of hearings earlier this year, then-Fire Chief William “Shorty” Bryson testified that he had intended to suspend Beckmann for 14 days, but agreed to the more-serious demotion following Gimenez’s instructions.

Arbitrator Mark I. Lurie issued a binding ruling Tuesday that the county’s action constituted a breach of Miami-Dade’s contract with the firefighters union, which gives disciplinary authority to the fire chief, not the mayor. Gimenez had argued that, as a strong mayor who manages the county administration, employee discipline ultimately lies with him.

But Lurie disagreed, citing the “unambiguous” collective-bargaining agreement with the International Association of Firefighters Local 1403: “The Arbitrator deems it self evident that the [contract] directives — that the demotion decision must be made by a Department Director — refers to who must make the decision and not to who must sign the paperwork.”

Gimenez said in a statement Wednesday that he is “disappointed” by the ruling, which the county must now follow.

“Clearly, his finding highlights the need to amend county procedures to properly reflect the powers of a ‘strong mayor,’ ” he said. “That said, we must always hold our county employees to a higher standard, and given the offensive and inflammatory remarks made by Mr. Beckmann — a member of a diverse organization that serves an equally diverse community — a quick slap on the wrist just isn’t good enough. I stand by the original decision to demote him, a punishment that was far more befitting of the offense.”

Bryson testified the mayor instructed him to demote or fire Beckmann. Had he disobeyed Gimenez, Bryson said he felt he would have had to resign. Bryson retired at the end of January, a move both the fire department and the mayor’s office have said was unrelated to the Beckmann case.

Gimenez , a former city of Miami firefighter, testified he thought a 14-day suspension was “too light” and “inappropriate.”

“Mayor Gimenez testified that he interceded in the instant case because the news media had given Mr. Beckmann’s Facebook posting nationwide and intensive coverage,” the arbitrator wrote.

Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, is a longtime employee of Miami-Dade’s public housing and community development department. Fulton, who met briefly with Gimenez last year after Beckmann’s demotion, has taken an unpaid leave of absence since February.

On his personal Facebook page, Beckmann bashed prosecutor Angela Corey, who charged George Zimmerman of Sanford with second-degree murder in Trayvon’s death. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense.

“Listening to Prosecutor Corey blow herself and her staff for five minutes before pre-passing judgment on George Zimmerman,” Beckmann’s post read.

“The state seeks reelection again, truth aside. I and my co-workers could rewrite the book on whether urban youths are victims of racist profiling or products of their failed, sh--bag, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents, but like Mrs. Corey, we speak only the truth.

“They’re just misunderstood little church-going angels and the ghetto hoodie look doesn’t have anything to do with why people wonder if they’re about to get jacked by a thug.”

A screen shot of the post was sent to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s human resources section last April. The post was later revealed by the African-American news website theGrio.com. The disciplinary report that resulted in Beckmann’s demotion said the post hurt the public’s trust in the fire department.

The arbitrator ruled Beckmann, a county employee since 1997, must regain his captain’s rank dating back to the day he was demoted, with back pay and benefits, though he must serve the 14-day unpaid suspension, which is the punishment Bryson initially intended.

The fire department — now under the helm of Chief Dave Downey — does not yet know the suspension dates, spokeswoman Griselle Marino said, or in which fire station Beckmann will serve as captain.

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