The ground rules for upcoming contract negotiations between the city and the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union that represents some 950 rank-and-file officers within the Portland Police Bureau (PPB)—are coming into focus.
The city's hoping to finalize the contract before June 2020, when the PPA's current three-year contract expires.
Similar to its past negotiations with the PPA, the city is expected to push for stricter discipline guidelines in the new contract. A community group, made up of police accountability advocates and religious leaders, has called on the city to increase penalties for officers who use deadly force and create a stronger civilian oversight system, among other things.
At the first formal meeting between the two bargaining committees on February 7, attorneys representing each side settled on familiar—and novel—guidelines for the months-long bargaining session. The public meeting, held on the Portland Community College's Southeast campus, set a cautiously amicable tone for the historically tense conversations.
"We'd like to find a happy medium to provide transparency, but keep the bargaining process strong," said Steven Schuback, the outside labor attorney the City of Portland's hired to lead their negotiations.
Schuback, a former Multnomah County prosecutor, has a long history representing both city governments and law enforcement unions across Oregon and Washington ("Name a town, and I've probably represented it," he told reporters Friday).
He also has a history working across the bargaining table from attorney Anil Karia, the PPA's general counsel. Just last July, Schuback worked opposite Karia representing Clackamas County in contract negations with the Clackamas County Peace Officers' Association, which retained Karia's counsel.
The city's bargaining committee includes Schuback, Chief Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown, PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis, PPB Assistant Chief Ryan Lee, and members of the City of Portland's labor relations department, including Labor Relations Manager Jerrell Gaddis. PPA's team includes Karia, PPA President Daryl Turner, several PPB officers, and Portland's former human resources director Anna Kanwit, who abruptly resigned in 2017.
The last time both parties met to negotiate a contract in 2016, the city was able to negotiate away a "48-hour rule"—a provision that gave cops involved in a shooting two days until they had to speak with internal investigators—in exchange for a 9 percent raise for PPB officers. (It took City Council intervening again in 2017, however, to make sure that 48-hour rule stuck.)
The 2016 negotiations ended with then-Mayor Charlie Hales locking the public out of the City Council vote, with officers shoving and pepper-spraying activists in the process (Schuback says he's unfamiliar with this violent finale, which grabbed national headlines). The city's hoping for a slightly more transparent and welcoming negotiation this time around.
The February 7 meeting touched on the main rules for the upcoming negotiations between the city and its police union. Schuback and Karia weren't able to squeeze every decision into the meeting, however, leaving some decisions to be made at the start of the first negotiation meeting later this month.
Here's what's been agreed on so far:
- The city and PPA will alternate hosting the bargaining sessions. The city will host all-public meetings, while the PPA's meetings will be closed to the public (and to PPA membership that aren't on their bargaining committee).
- The city will be able to make public tentative agreements reached by the bargaining committees—agreed-upon sections that will make up the final contract—before the PPA and Portland City Council formally approves them. This will let the public follow along with piecemeal decisions being made throughout negotiations, instead of the parties simply sharing the agreed-upon contract days before a City Council vote. Karia raised concerns that the dense legalese used in the tentatives agreements would be too complicated for PPA members to understand "without context." According to Karia, PPA members have not been shown tentative agreements in the past.
- Limitless sidebars. When ideas are proposed by either side during a bargaining session, the opposite team may way to step aside to discuss the proposal in private. Both sides agreed that those meetings, called "caucuses," shouldn't be restricted by time limits.
- Both parties will issue a joint press release after bargaining meetings. (This was proposed to keep both sides from "lobbing bombs" at each other through press releases).
- The first bargaining session will take place on Monday, February 24. This meeting will be open to the public and hosted by the city (location TBD).
Here's what still needs to be hashed out:
- Who can attend the private sessions. Schuback asked PPA to consider allowing city employees who aren't part of the bargaining committee, like staff for city commissioners, attend PPA's closed-door sessions to help advise the bargaining team on certain decisions.
- Appearances by "guest experts." Schuback proposed brining subject area experts or people with a "special interest" to the bargaining table during negotiations. In a conversation with the public following the February 7 meeting, Schuback explained that these individuals would be invited to "bring something productive to the table," not to "berate" officers. If approved by the PPA, this could mean allowing people with lived experience of police misconduct—family members of people injured or killed by PPB officers, perhaps—to have a seat at the table.
- Audio recording. The PPA and City of Portland still need to agree whether or not their bargaining committees can record sessions to review after the fact. (Karia said this could discourage "creative discussions.")