The Portland Police Association has filed an unfair labor practices complaint (PDF) accusing the city of negotiating in bad faith by insisting on having some of its contract talks with the rank-and-file police union in public.
The PPA is asking the city to drop its insistence that some meetings should be public—the union is refusing to hold any meetings in the open—and it wants the Oregon Employment Relations Board to order the city to go along with that and also pay back the union's legal costs.
Here's a statement from Mayor Charlie Hales.
“The PPA is trying to completely shut out the public and insist on backroom bargaining at the very time transparency is most needed.
The public won’t stand for that.
The City has already compromised on this issue, willing to allow PPA to close sessions held on its property. We only want the same consideration to open sessions held on City property.
The public has been saying our Police Bureau needs to change. For the bureau to change, the PPA bargaining agreement needs to change. The public and the US Dept of Justice are appropriately looking over our shoulder, and Portlanders are simply not going to stand for negotiations that are completely closed.”
Update 5:40 PM: PPA President Daryl Turner, when reached by phone, said only "read the Rap Sheet," in response to a request for comment. The Rap Sheet is the PPA's newsletter. That was his response when asked generally for comment and also when asked, specifically, if he'd consider discussing having public talks with the city. Turner yesterday posted a letter called "Moving Forward With Contract Negotiations" essentially saying he does not want to hold contract talks in public.
During the negotiation process there will be many ideas, proposals, and issues discussed, considered, and negotiated. The negotiation process evolves with each session. Some progress quickly while others are painstakingly long, frustrating, and sometimes counter productive. During these negotiations there will sometimes be miscommunications, misconceptions, and out right disagreements that need to be sorted out before there is resolution. That is why the PPA is adhering to a strict policy of confidentiality. To negotiate this contract in front of the media and the court of public opinion would bring these negotiations to a screeching halt and jeopardize any forward progress the parties have make.
We are ready, willing, and eager to start moving forward into these negotiations with the City. Together, we’ll take on the many challenges we face in bringing to you and the citizens of Portland a blueprint for the future; a future that insures the safety, quality of service, and community partnership we all work for on daily basis. A future that advocates for your safety, benefits, and rights as you continue to make Portland one of the safest, most livable, and business friendly cities in the country.
Update 5:50 PM: According to the union's complaint, the city and the union have met five times this year at PPA headquarters (January 15, February 28, March 13, March 27, and then on June 26) to discuss a labor contract that expired June 30.
Ground rules proposals were exchanged at the first two of those meetings, including the idea that some of the meetings would be held on city property and, thus, be public. But the complaint says neither side was able to reach an agreement on public meetings and that the two moved on to swapping substantive contract proposals.
But if there was an impasse, it didn't look that way publicly. Back in late March, the day after the fourth of those five meetings, the Mercury first reported that Mayor Charlie Hales was offering a compromise to to the PPA.
Allowing that some preliminary talks had already been held, and dropping a stance he took on the campaign trail, Hales said he'd let some meetings be held behind closed doors and some in public. That was the model the city adopted to end an impasse over contract talks three years ago, before the city and union both made a show of holding all their talks out in the open.
That motion for open talks, also as the Mercury exclusively reported, really was just a show. The two sides continued to secretly meet at union HQ and in hotels and other locations.
Turner seemed like he was on board after Hales made his offer. But there was some reason for caution, however, in Turner's remarks.
Turner, the PPA president, is calling the arrangement a "fair compromise." But he also said, as of last week, that he hadn't spoken personally with the mayor.
"That's what they say. We haven't really talked about it among ourselves and decided what we're going to do," Turner at first told the Mercury.
Later, he signaled his assent: "When we have it at the PPA, whether it be at our office or somewhere else, we'd have them in private. I don't think there's going to be any reason to suspect there's some hidden agenda. It worked fine last time, and I don't see any reason to deviate."
Now, according to the complaint at least, the two sides never hammered out that arrangement. At the June session, it says, city negotiator Jerrell Gaddis said the next session would be held on city property and be public. PPA lawyer Anil Karia, the complaint says, told Gaddis that the two had not agreed and offered to keep talking.
They emailed back and forth, and the city remained resolute. Gaddis emailed on July 8 that "it is the city's position that the bargaining sessions will be open at the city's locations." But Karia, according to the complaint, got Gaddis to admit under state law that no such requirement for public bargaining sessions exists, even if a session is held on public property.
They went back and forth and tried to set up a meeting in August. But both dug in over public bargaining in the following weeks, leading to today's filing.
Gaddis, in his emails to Karia, tried to make the case that because the two hadn't actually ever agreed to ground rules, the city was within its right to default to a position that public buildings are open to the public.
This is no different than if a group of off-duty Association members show up for a bargaining session at the Association's office. If that happens, the City would not have any grounds to keep them out since there is no agreement to restrict who can attend bargaining. Basically, since there are no ground rules, the parties can invite or allow who they want to attend bargaining.