The Portland Police Association sent a letter to the city's Bureau of Human Resources this afternoon asking that, after three months of public negotiations, talks on the union's expired contract instead be conducted through a mediator.

The two sides have agreed to cancel a public session scheduled for Monday morning and meet with a mediator that afternoon instead. The union, in a letter written by its lead negotiator, Will Aitchison, told the city that while "we appreciate the effort the city has shown to try to resolve the differences between the parties, the gulf between us appears too wide."

The city's lead negotiator, Steve Herron, confirmed the two sides will meet with a mediator and that the city will try to "gauge whether that process might assist the parties in reaching agreement." Herron also said the reserves the right to return to "open session table bargaining." Neither side can unilaterally send the process to mediation until mid-February—150 days after bargaining started.

Sticking points, as you read in Hall Monitor this week, include the city's insistence on a drug-testing policy for sworn officers, as well as civilian oversight, and desire to dramatically cut back the amount of time off cops can accrue in lieu of overtime. The city also is insisting, as it has done with every other union, that members swear off a cost-of-living raise in the first year of any deal and as little as half the usual increase in the second year. That concession is worth millions to the city's bottom line.

At the last negotiating session, Friday, December 10, the city offered to soften its drug-testing policy and asked to restrict, instead of outright eliminate, comp time.

How might things go? It's possible the union is seeking a way to give ground on issues that are sensitive to its members—on, say, oversight and drug testing—and would rather blame any shifts in policy on mediation. If that's the case, the two sides could decide mediation makes sense and continue the process. Consequently, the city could decide the political stakes of giving in to union demands are too high, and try to keep the process out in the open.

Ultimately, if the two sides can't agree on a deal next year, after the 150 days and after a round of mediation, an independent arbitrator would decide between "last, best" plans submitted by both sides. If things get that far, expect something a lot like the status quo.

(I'd have posted something earlier, but was down at the courthouse helping chase the other big police story today.) Click here to read the PPA's letter.