Despite Friday's formal state complaint over the Mayor Charlie Hales' insistence on partially public contract talks with the Portland Police Association—presumably stalling those talks for the foreseeable future—the city remains hopeful the sides can continue bargaining all the same.
City negotiators let themselves into a Portland Building conference room around 8:30 this morning, for a bargaining meeting the two sides had apparently only emailed about scheduling.
They were joined bright and early by Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch—whom I checked with this afternoon after hearing whispers of the meeting. Handelman usually knows when and where to show up. And he says he was welcomed into the room, despite the dustup over whether meetings on city property would be public.
But, then, that was it. The PPA—the city's guest of honor—never showed. Nor did its representatives call ahead to let anyone know. Handelman says they all waited for half an hour, until labor relations manager Jerrell Gaddis pulled the plug.
"That was it," Handelman says. "That was the entirety of it."
The union argues the city has no legal basis to open contract talks, even partially, without the PPA's consent. PPA President Daryl Turner wrote in the PPA's newsletter that he doesn't want any of the talks open, despite favoring a half-open/half-closed approach during negotiations nearly three years ago. As reported by the Mercury this week, the city even admitted in 2010 that union talks, when they're handled by negotiators and not elected officials, don't qualify as public.
Asked about this morning's would-be meeting, Turner declined to comment, citing the complaint process in front of the Oregon Employment Relations Board.
Today's meeting was mentioned alongside an August 15 meeting in emails attached to the union's complaint. It's not clear if the union ever actually agreed to show for either, given the impasse over letting the public in. I'm waiting for confirmation from the city on whether it's planning to show up for the meeting in two weeks, too, likely in vain. I'm also curious to know if the city was merely trying to make a point.
During the last round of talks in 2010, as I reported exclusively, the city approached the PPA with a deal in which talks would be declared public, but with the stickiest issues still discussed behind closed doors. The PPA is clearly concerned, as Turner wrote, about the "court of public opinion" if bargaining ideas are freely discussed. But being perceived as unwilling to be transparent also raises the prospect of a different kind of verdict from that court of opinion.
"This does not work well for their public relations," says Handelman.