FOR THE PORTLAND Police Association (PPA)—the union that represents nearly 1,000 rank-and-file cops in the city—tilting with Police Chief Mike Reese and his civilian budget director, Mike Kuykendall, is getting awfully expensive.
The union just approved a substantial dues increase that its monthly newsletter, Rap Sheet, billed as essential for continuing to "fight [for] and preserve members' wages, benefits, working conditions, and rights!"
The money—about $360 more a year for the typical cop—will help with a variety of budget-straining priorities. It will help pay legal bills for things like pension appeals or for cops facing civil and/or criminal charges (like Dane Reister, the officer in the beanbag ammo mix-up last summer). And it will give the PPA a reserve fund.
But most importantly, the money will help pay for the aggressive style of the PPA's president, Daryl Turner. Under Turner, according to observers in city hall and elsewhere, the PPA has launched a nearly unprecedented barrage of contract grievances (19 in 2011, according to the union's own sales pitch for the dues hike).
Those aren't cheap—especially once an arbitrator gets called in to help settle them. Past union presidents who were more willing to engage in handshake diplomacy used to find ways to avoid them by handling disputes informally.
The city's human resources director, Yvonne Deckard, said even the famously pugnacious (and since fired) Scott Westerman didn't file grievances "at a rate that I've seen coming from this leadership." She said the PPA files roughly the same number of grievances as the District Council of Trade Unions, which encompasses several union locals spread across several bureaus.
"The current [PPA] leadership files grievances all the time," she says—challenging things like the city's new drug-testing policy, use-of-force reporting rules, the city's new 911 system, and a bunch of discipline cases.
Under past presidents, she says, "we were able to plow through more issues."
And Turner's approach may be galvanizing the chief's office to match him punch for punch. Even in a time of budget cuts, Reese's staff—able to rely on the human resources bureau and city attorney's office—can afford to go to the mats more often than Turner can. Think of the Cold War.
For what it's worth, 62.5 percent of voting PPA members blessed Turner's approach. That's a solid majority. But also of note: Just fewer than half of his members didn't bother voting—a higher abstention rate, he acknowledged, than when the PPA voted on its most recent contract.
Did that give him pause? Turner said it was "common" and the "nature of the beast." He also wouldn't say, when I asked him, whether he planned to slow the pace of his grievances.
"Our wish is to always be collaborative," he says. "However, we're going to defend our contract."