Demonstrators during 2016s PPA negotiations.
Demonstrators during 2016's PPA negotiations. DIRK VANDERHART

Portland City Council has voted to extend its current contract with the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the city's rank-and-file police union—by one year.

The current contract, approved in 2016 was set to expire June 30. But, due to COVID-19's physical distancing restrictions, the city and PPA's bargaining teams were unable to meet to hash out the terms of a new three-year contract in time to meet that deadline. The extension of the contract to June 30, 2021 will essentially grant both sides a do-over in negotiation talks, now set to begin on January 13, 2021.

At a Wednesday City Council session, Mayor Ted Wheeler said this extension will allow for more public involvement in the historically contentious bargaining talks.

"We are more than halfway through the bargaining and would likely only have a couple more public sessions until the end, which would not have allowed for sufficient public participation," said Wheeler. "With this agreement...we will have at least 150 days of bargaining and therefore, a much greater opportunity for necessary public participation."

Wheeler noted that the delay also allows the negotiations to reflect new police reform policies passed by the Oregon Legislature last week. One of those policies would allow negotiations around limiting an arbitrator's involvement in police discipline decisions.

The contract comes with a few noteworthy amendments. According to the contract, an expected 2.9 percent cost-of-living wage increase for PPA members in 2020 has been delayed until June 30, 2021. However, unlike other city bureaus impacted by the city's COVID-19 losses, officers will not be required to take furlough days before then. The contract also approves the continuation of the Portland Street Response (PSR) pilot program, which has also been delayed by a citywide hiring freeze due to COVID-19. The contract allows the pilot to be expanded to up to six teams across the city. Yet, the contract adds, the PPA will be allowed the right to negotiate its involvement in PSR if the pilot program turns permanent.

Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman said that, while his organization supports expanded public engagement, he is concerned that the extension will only exacerbate issues identified in the current contract.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Handelman.

Sarah Iannarone, who is running against Wheeler in the November election for mayor, also voiced criticism about the contract delay.

"I disagree with the hasty renewal of the [PPA] contract," said Iannarone. "While COVID does present challenges, with tens of thousands of Portlanders in the streets supporting and demanding reforms, we're missing a valuable opportunity to leverage that public support for bringing maximize demands to the bargaining table."

The vote follows a night of protests in front of the PPA headquarters in North Portland, which ended in police using tear gas and explosive munitions to break up the largely peaceful crowd. Several advocates for police reform reflected their frustration on social media with the city supporting the union contract extension.

Before the vote, city staff explained that voting against the extension would only grant City Council less control over its police bureau.

"Allowing the expiration of a new bargaining agreement does not provide the city with a new opportunity to act independent of the expired contract," said Cathy Bless, the city's director of Human Resources. "Extending this contract does help to ensure critical conversations about police accountability within the state, federal, and local levels are integrated within this timeline."

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime critic of past PPA contracts, reiterated that the contract delay does not stall the city's response to how police have been addressing the past month of nightly protests.

"I am not happy at all when I see the videos of what's been happening on the streets every night, and that cannot continue... we have to figure out how to resolve that as soon as possible," said Hardesty. "But... this extension in no way backs us away from our commitment to ensuring that the contract clearly represents the community's values."

City Commissioners approved the extension unanimously.