It's all so predictable. Yesterday, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, churning up a heavy-handed media stir, called the cancellation of a fitness premium handed to hundreds of cops merely for subjecting to a blood test. And today, Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, issued his own bombastic statement ripping into both Saltzman and the Oregonian article that set the commissioner off.
The nastiest paragraph in Turner's statement, posted on the PPA's website:
Commissioner Saltzman’s knee jerk reaction to the misinformation from a recent article in The Oregonian is symptomatic of the disconnect between the Portland Police Association and Commissioner Saltzman. Commissioner Saltzman has displayed an amazing lack of restraint in publicly pronouncing his desire that the City violate a contract with the PPA. His displaced anger is also surprising. If he feels that high ranking City officials deceived him about this fitness premium, he should take it up with those officials. Instead, he wants to penalize the hard working police officers who have negotiated for a legally binding benefit. That is symptomatic of the failing labor relations in this City and across the country—when all else fails, penalize the worker. That is simply unacceptable. Commissioner Saltzman’s resolution to breach a legally binding agreement is irresponsible. He should stop poisoning the labor relations in this City.
But Turner also raised an interesting point—bringing to light the real reason the city backed away from the physical fitness tests officials thought they were imposing on cops: Miscommunication. High-level miscommunication. Despite a lot of closed-door meetings.
The union assumed the tests would be administered on the city's dime, the city thought they would be administered on individual cops' personal time, and neither side actually had an explicit discussion in which that gap was laid bare. Until the contract was signed—and the city balked at the sudden prospect of paying overtime for cops to hustle through obstacle courses. (And can you imagine the scandal if the city wound up paying for fitness premiums—and forking over budget-busting overtime?)
"We disagreed on what we agreed on," admits Yvonne Deckard, the city's human resources director, saying that's "not unusual" when new provisions are added to labor contracts. "Neither side was crystal clear about whose time it was on. Not enough questions were asked."
That fuzziness is backed up by documents and emails from late December 2010 that show, even after the two sides announced they had reached a tentative deal, a few loose ends remained. The contract never detailed what kind of test would be administered. That was the case even though the city and the union were regularly meeting and chatting on the phone.
Turner, bless him, never misses a chance to say something provocative, even when he might be better served by piping down. Because Saltzman's resolution, up for council vote next week, isn't going to go anywhere.
The resolution is "not binding," says Deckard, who added she told that to Saltzman when he let her know he was filing it—and also told him that maybe "it was remiss of me not to loop" the council in about the back-and-forth that led the city to drop the fitness test.
Deckard also said Turner's members ought not count on next year's test being so easy. This year's blood test was a baseline. Next time, cops have to do more than show up for a pin prick. They'll have to show, when they get their blood drawn, that their medical scores actually improved.