Doug Brown

The City of Portland began 2020 with an ambitious goal: Propose, negotiate, and sign a new contract with the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union representing hundreds of rank-and-file officers—before the PPA's current contract expired on June 30, 2020.

Even before COVID-19 forced the city into shutdown, the initial, glacially-paced February meetings between the City and the PPA's legal teams made this timeframe feel rushed. Now, with COVID-19 cancelling the last two months of scheduled negotiations, it's certain that the two sides won't reach an agreement before the PPA's current contract expires.

So, what does that mean for the hundreds Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers represented by the PPA—and the public they police?

According to Chief Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown, it means that, after the current contract expires on June 30, PPA will enter a "status quo period." That means the current contract, which the two sides entered in November 2016, will remain in place until the City and the PPA land on a new contract.

The biggest difference is that during this limbo period, PPA members won't qualify for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), a term for annual pay raises based on inflation.

This is something the City of Portland is already trying to do with all city employees now that COVID-19 has torn a sizable gap in the city's budget. In April, Mayor Ted Wheeler froze all COLA increases for city employees not represented by a union. The city is currently in negotiations with the nine unions (including the PPA) that represent various city employees to have their members adhere to the same wage freezes.

Brown said that those budget-related conversations are still ongoing with the PPA. (The PPA did not resply to the Mercury's request for comment.)

But Brown's not sure when the City's legal team will be able to restart its larger contract negotiations, especially since the city's committed to having at least half of the sessions open to the public. According to Wheeler's office, the next pre-scheduled meeting for contract negotiations is June 19. But Multnomah County's current COVID-19 restrictions would need to significantly change before then to allow for an in-person meeting.

And, Brown said, moving the conversations online might not be an option.

"We're not sure if Zoom can be an effective way to bargain, due to the need for private, secure side-conversations," said Brown. "It's not an easy thing to recreate. We're still trying to figure it all out."