After five hours in a special mediation session yesterday with the Portland Police Association, the city's labor negotiation team has agreed to keep bargaining over the union's contract behind closed doors.
Late Friday, the union sent a letter asking to suspend what normally would be a 150-day window of public bargaining—a request that required the city's assent. After deciding things went well enough during yesterday's test mediation session, the city has decided to say yes, says Steve Herron, the city's top labor negotiator.
"We made enough progress, however, that we've agreed to suspend the 150-day obligation and continue with the mediation process," he told me earlier this morning. "We will, in relatively short order, have a clear sense of whether or not this is going to produce fruit and yield an agreement."
A few issues have emerged in the three months the two sides have met publicly to discuss the contract.
The city is pushing for a wage freeze and then reduced pay increases early in the contract, and after initially seeking to eliminate officers' ability to swap overtime pay for time off, the city is now pushing for a dramatic reduction in how much so-called "comp" time cops can accrue. In addition, the city is after random drug-testing and is hoping the union will drop its opposition to the newly redrawn civilian oversight system the council approved this summer.
Taken together, that's proven a tough set of conditions for the union, led by Officer Daryl Turner and represented by attorney Will Aitchison, to accept. The union has pushed for increased compensation and has strongly opposed the oversight system, drug-testing, and any changes to "comp" time accrual. The city's offer would be a tough sell to union members even without the oversight and drug-testing issues on the table.
As such, the intertwining of the economic and the non-economic issues, especially as the city looks to keep itself on a strong fiscal footing, will no doubt lead to some horse-trading amid some very high political stakes.
The union, even under the more conciliatory Turner, has been defensive over a growing public discontent when it comes to oversight issues, tartly ripping into the city over the firing of Ron Frashour, the officer who shot Aaron Campbell. (Conciliatory, you ask? In fairness, contract talks had been stalled in monthslong mire of acrimony and sniping until Turner took over as president and agreed to let them be held in public.)
Meanwhile Mayor Sam Adams, police commissioner for only seven months and also in charge of the Bureau of Human Resources, in a tough spot because he has placed both fiscal prudence and police accountability high on his priority list.
And now we won't get to look in and how things will shake out. As I posted yesterday, some Portlanders, at least, have noticed.
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