Nobody ever gets everything they want during labor negotiations.
But a tentative contract between the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) and city officials has drawn renewed scrutiny over the way police accountability measures can get watered down at the bargaining table.
Six years in the making, the SPMA contract undermines key provisions in the police accountability legislation passed by City Council in May, according to advisors who helped craft those reforms. But rejecting a contract now would likely stall negotiations for longer.
One discrepancy involves a section in the ordinance calling for more coordination between administrative investigators and detectives probing officers accused of criminal misconduct. The other major inconsistency deals with the process for officers appealing discipline.
City Council is scheduled to vote on the contract on Monday. Officials say the agreement will set the tone for negotiations between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, a bigger union representing rank-and-file officers.
During a special Community Police Commission (CPC) meeting called specifically to address the SPMA contract, one of the high-ranking officers who helped negotiate the agreement said there’s no room left to bargain. If the council rejects the contract, it’s likely negotiations would enter the arbitration stage, according to Captain Joe Kessler.
“We’ve bent so far,” said Kessler, who serves on both the CPC and the SPMA’s negotiating team. “Make no mistake. If this contract does not go through, I suspect there will be no ability to negotiate.”
After all, the SPMA did accept some reforms. Despite the contract provisions that undercut the accountability legislation, SPMA agreed to the broader framework of oversight including the civilianization of the Office of Professional Accountability, establishing an Office of the Inspector General and making the Community Police Commission permanent.
In weighing how the CPC should respond to the agreement, reformists on the commission acknowledged that rejecting an agreement now could be interpreted as a show of bad faith negotiating. As commissioner Lisa Daugaard put it, “To say no at this point isn’t an ordinary no.”
During the meeting, commissioners also rehashed a debate over how to create an oversight mechanism for police union negotiations. The CPC has long advocated for requiring the city to communicate with technical advisors from watchdog groups like the CPC during negotiations. Those advisors would help explain the intent of reforms and clarify language. That differs from “opening” or “daylighting” police union negotiation.
Yesterday, the CPC voted to strengthen that recommendation and push for the city to grant a seat for technical advisors on the Labor Relations Policy Committee, which determines the strategy and positions for the city during collective bargaining. Only Captain Kessler voted no.
The CPC also voted to speak publicly about the contradictions between the contract and the reform ordinance. "I think we have an obligation to explain the rationale for the items that were left behind," Daugaard said.