Back in July, one week after the resignation of Seattle Police Officers Guild president Ron Smith and one day after the guild rejected a new contract offer, Mayor Ed Murray threatened to "immediately move" to binding arbitration with the city's largest police union if a labor agreement could not be reached.
The move would have brought in an outside arbitrator to settle disputed terms and force an agreement.
But more than two months later, with the negotiations dragging into their twenty-first month, the city and union remain in mediation, negotiating with one another.
In a letter obtained by The Stranger through a public records request, Mayor Ed Murray wrote to the new head of the police guild, Kevin Stuckey, on July 22:
We cannot continue to operate under a collective bargaining agreement that restricts the ability of the Department and the City to make needed improvements to our operations and accountability processes... One way or another, reform is going to happen. While I remain hopeful that such changes can be achieved at the bargaining table, the city is fully committed to immediately move to interest arbitration if that is necessary.
The city's police officers—SPOG's members—had overwhelmingly voted down the city's contract proposal one day prior. The vote was 823 to 156, according to a report from Q13 Fox.
We published a confidential summary of the offer, which showed the city had negotiated a raft of reforms in the agreement, including changes to the makeup of the Discipline Review Board, a tribunal stacked two-to-one with police that can overturn firing decisions. (Cynthia Whitlatch, fired for racial bias last year, is appealing to the body.) But Sam Sinyangwe, an analyst with the Black Lives Matter group Campaign Zero, said the reforms in the agreement didn't go nearly far enough.
Then, in an August hearing, federal judge James Robart, who oversees the Department of Justice consent decree, sent a strong message to the union: The city would "not be held hostage" by SPOG holding out for more pay in exchange for reforms that protect the civil rights of Seattle residents. The judge threatened to override the negotiation process if the union "resists needed change."
"I think the entire city of Seattle would march behind me in that position," Robart said.
So, why hasn't the city acted on Murray's threat and already moved to arbitration?
"Currently, we remain in mediation," said mayoral spokesperson Benton Strong. "The shift in leadership at SPOG had an impact on the schedule of our negotiations, but discussions continue."
Strong refused to elaborate, so we're left with the above statement—which, given recent events, is a bit puzzling. By the time the mayor sent his letter, the shift in leadership had already taken place. The former SPOG president, Ron Smith, had resigned in the wake of an offensive Facebook post. The mayor was addressing his replacement, Kevin Stuckey, who Smith considered one of his union allies.
Last week, the Seattle Times reported that Rich O'Neill, the notorious former-former president of SPOG and current vice-president of the union, is now taking on the lead role in negotiating the contract. According to the Times, O'Neill had campaigned within SPOG against the ratification of the city's previous offer.
O'Neill is a "total dick." You pay his salary.
This article has been updated since its original publication.