BY THE TIME this column hits newsstands and goes online, sometime on Wednesday, January 5, Portland Police Association members ought to be getting their first briefing on a tentative labor contract struck with the city.
Those confabs with the union's nearly 1,000 members, led by union President Daryl Turner, ought to be finished by Thursday. And then the voting—and the waiting and the breath holding and the palm sweating, on both sides of the table—will officially begin.
Why so high-stress? One reason is that the union contract has become a hot political issue for Mayor Sam Adams, with millions of dollars for the city treasury at stake. The other is far simpler: It's looking like a tough-to-swallow deal for union members who already feel besieged by criticism and discipline decisions in the wake of several high-profile uses of deadly force.
Neither side is discussing details publicly, and the final provisions of the tentative agreement were hammered out behind closed doors. But the tentative proposal will include compromises on key city issues that may give some union members pause: things like random drug testing, limits on how officers use the vacation days they can accrue in lieu of overtime, and apparently some kind of concessions over the city's regimen of civilian police oversight (although, says Turner, the city "did not get carte blanche").
One thing yet to emerge is how much the city had to pay—in perks and pay bumps—to secure what appear to be a small handful of policy victories. It's been no secret to those watching the talks that the two questions—pay vs. policy—have been inextricably linked.
Before the bargaining went behind closed doors late last month, I worried that the teeter-totter in the talks might plop down the other way, that the city would prize economic gains over reforms. Instead, the city found itself with better-than-expected budget news and a little more wiggle room, apparently, than negotiators must've originally anticipated.
Turner believes his members will bless the deal. He also said he didn't regret starting the talks in public, showing the union "doesn't have anything to hide," even if the publicity was occasionally irksome. But there are reasons to be dubious. For one, the announcement of the long-awaited agreement seemed subdued. It was posted quietly—with absolutely no fanfare—on the union's website on the sleepy Monday after Christmas.
And in another sign of potential restiveness, a union source—among a very small number of people privy to such a thing—leaked an early set of contract proposals to Willamette Week, perhaps part of a bid to muck things up ahead of a vote.
No worries, Turner says. "The members need all the info. Once members come, they'll understand."