The Portland Police Association has filed an unfair labor complaint against the city of Portland, saying that Mayor Charlie Hales' stance that some contract negotiations be made public is against labor rules.
The complaint (PDF), hand-delivered to the city attorney this afternoon, says the city—which is holding out for at least some public meetings in the Portland Building—doesn't have the legal authority to force negotiations out into the open. By insisting as such, it says Portland officials are bargaining in bad faith.
This year's bargaining has the added weight of a federal court case behind it—several of the changes Portland and the PPA remain divided on are tied directly to the U.S. Department of Justice settlement over its findings of the bureau's use of excessive force.
The issue of public negotiations isn't new: the city and its police union haggled over public meetings during its last contract talks in 2010. PPA President Daryl Turner agreed to a few open meetings then.
This time around, however, the union wants all talks to stay private. Turner wrote on Thursday in the latest union news letter, The Rap Sheet, that talks in front of the media and the "court of public opinion" could bring talks to a "screeching halt."
"During these negotiations there will sometimes be miscommunications, misconceptions, and out right disagreements that need to be sorted out before there is resolution," Turner writes. "That is why the PPA is adhering to a strict policy of confidentiality."
Hales, however, wants to change several key police procedures, especially those around officer-involved shootings, and believes bringing those negotiations in front of the public will help give him leverage.
He says the PPA "is trying to completely shut out the public and insist on backroom bargaining at the very time transparency is most needed."
The mayor says in a statement that the city has already compromised by agreeing to some contract talks behind closed doors at PPA headquarters in Northwest Portland.
"The public has been saying our Police Bureau needs to change," Hales says. "For the bureau to change, the PPA bargaining agreement needs to change. The public and the U.S. Department of Justice are appropriately looking over our shoulder, and Portlanders are simply not going to stand for negotiations that are completely closed."
The union, in turn, wants to bargain for gains in other areas, such as salary, to agree to those changes, and thinks it may have a better shot at horse-trading in private.
The city and its rank-and-file police union, which represents some 900 sworn positions, have been negotiating sporadically since January. The issue of public meetings came to a head this month, as Portland negotiators and union lawyers tried to set the next meeting date.
Union lawyers note in the complaint that there's nothing in labor law that mandates negotiations be held in public. The city's representatives counter that the union is "refusing" to bargain because it won't meet on city turf. The next meeting was set to be held Aug. 1, with the city insisting it be open to the public.
Although neither side will talk about sticking points in the contract talks may be, its likely a few of them are reforms mandated by the DOJ. Among those are the creation of a matrix that standardizes officer discipline and the elimination of a rule that gives officers involved in fatal shootings 48 hours to confer with union representatives before giving an official statement.
The PPA, which also has legal right to intervene in the DOJ settlement, the city and the U.S. Attorneys office will likely go to trial over some of these issues, as a July 18 status update in U.S. District Court revealed.
The contract expired June 30, and the complaint was filed today with the state Employment Relations Board. The PPA wants a $1,000 civil fine, attorney fees and a finding that Portland negotiated in bad faith.
Gail Shibley, Hales' chief of staff, tells WW that she finds the claims made in the unfair labor complaint "completely outrageous and factually inaccurate."
Shibley says that the complaint also will likely further stall negotiations, as the two sides can't agree on a venue or level of public participation.