AFTER LANGUISHING for months amid a dispute over whether to admit the public, and then moving only haltingly once they finally got rolling last month, contract talks with the Portland Police Association are about to enter something of a hurry-up phase.
The Portland City Council's long budget death march is beginning—and as bureaus are asked to crunch numbers ahead of next spring's vote, however many millions the city can wring from police salaries will go a long way toward settling a large part of the city's overall financial picture.
When the two sides met Friday, October 29, for only their third substantive set of discussions on a contract that expired this summer, the pressure on city negotiators to reach a deal—and quickly—was front and center.
"Our preference would be to move as efficiently as possible to a settlement"—with a focus on dollar-and-cents issues sooner than later, the city's lead negotiator, the affable Steve Herron, told the union's equally affable attorney, Will Aitchison.
Later, during one of the many breaks when one side or the other was out of the room, talking over proposals and counterproposals in private, I spoke at length with Herron about what that pressure might mean.
He confirmed that the city was hoping to nail down cost issues as soon as possible, whether by reining in compensatory time off, limiting cost-of-living increases, or fending off a general call for raises.
That urgency, Herron says, "is certainly driven by where we're at in the fiscal year."
And while that might be good news for bean counters, it should scare the living shit out of anyone who thought the contract talks might also serve as a vehicle for police reform, however meek. Not that they're expecting much.
The union has previously signaled its opposition to increased civilian oversight ["In Cop Talks: Dollars or Sense," Hall Monitor, Oct 7]. And the city, even as it dangles a tepid proposal to test officers for drugs and alcohol, has already begun the calculus of which "non-economic" issues it won't bend on—and which ones it will.
"The reality," Herron says, in the style of someone devoted to labor law, "is whenever management wants gains in working conditions and non-economic issues, unions will maintain that an employer needs to come up with remunerations to achieve that."