As negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild drag on, the Center and PJALS call on the Mayor to secure police accountability reforms.
Concerned by the possibility that popular police oversight reforms could once again fall victim to labor negotiations, the Center for Justice and the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane have appealed to Spokane Mayor David Condon to take swift and decisive action to protect Spokane’s newest city charter amendment.
In a July 3rd letter, the two organizations note that the City has now been in negotiations with the Spokane Police for a year and a half, “and there’s no indication when, or how,” the negotiations will conclude.
The two sides entered mediation in August of 2012, but are still reported to be at odds over contract terms. Under state rules when a mediator “is of the opinion that his or her further efforts will not result in an agreement” then steps will be taken to move unresolved issues to arbitration.
As CFJ lawyer Julie Schaffer and PJALS Director Liz Moore explain in the message to the Mayor, arbitration could be lethal the police accountability reforms that Spokane voters approved in February with Proposition 1. Conceivably, an arbitrator could rule—notwithstanding the will of Spokane voters—that the two sides should continue to be bound by an agreement framed behind closed doors in 2008. That agreement prevents the City’s Office of Police Ombudsman (OPO) from independently investigating and reporting on citizen complaints against Spokane police officers. Although the 2008 agreement conflicts with the new city charter amendment, it continues in force because the City has yet to adopt the implementing legislation for Proposition 1. This is because the 2008 agreement is part of the “old” collective bargaining agreement with the police guild.
Although the “old” collective bargaining agreement ostensibly expired at the end of 2011, its terms remain in effect until a new agreement is reached and ratified. That reality hasn’t prevented the city council from adopting an ordinance implementing Proposition 1, but it has certainly discouraged action, on the fear that the police guild would file an unfair labor practices complaint. The Center and PJALS have long taken the position that the City has the right, under state law, to implement civilian oversight of the police without having to bargain with the guild.
“Since 2009,” Schaffer and Moore write, “we have argued and provided legal justification for our position that the police oversight reforms incorporated into Proposition 1 are with in the City’s managerial discretion to implement. Our position is based upon previous PERC (Public Employment Relations Commission) decisions and court precedent. The City Attorney’s office indicates it does not accept our conclusions.”
The July 3rd letter from the Center and PJALS not only takes issue with the City’s legal posture, but warns about its potential consequences.
“This letter is written with some urgency,” the two continue, “because we believe the parties are rapidly approaching a crucial turning point in the negotiation process. As soon as the issues are certified for arbitration, the City could be unnecessarily putting at risk its authority to implement Proposition 1.”
The reason Proposition 1 might be at risk, the two explain, is that—so far as the public knows—the police accountability reforms could be among the issues that get certified for arbitration. Under state rules, the City would be required to notify the Police Guild in advance of arbitration that it does not consider the Proposition 1 reforms a “mandatory” subject of bargaining.
According to PERC Field Services Manager Mark Downing, PERC would not intervene to make a determination about whether subjects certified for arbitration are “mandatory” subjects of bargaining, or not. Thus, it would be up to the City to raise an objection.
If the Guild disagreed, then the City would have the opportunity to file a complaint with PERC in order to protect the Proposition 1 reforms from arbitration. But this supposed that the City would reverse course and adopt the Center’s and PJALS’s legal view that the police oversight reforms are all within the City’s managerial discretion to implement. The letter from the Center and PJALS is asking the Mayor to do just that.
In addition to raising the arbitration alarm, the letter also calls upon the Mayor to work with the leadership of the police guild to put an end to the virtual blackout on information about the negotiations with the guild. Schaffer and Moore reminded the Mayor of the observations and recommendation of the Mayor’s Use of Force Commission which, in its final report in late February, noted the “overwhelming” public perception that the unions contribute to “an unhealthy culture with the SPD.”
In its report, the Commission wrote that it “encourages the City to be as open as legally possible regarding its negotiations” with Spokane’s police unions. As we reported a week ago, even the Spokane City Council is getting restless about the lack of transparency in the City’s long-running negotiations with the guild on a new contract.
Wrote Schaffer and Moore: “State law provides that the parties to mediation can reach agreement on what to disclose about the nature, terms, and scope of their dispute in mediation…Given the Commission’s strong recommendation, and the considerable public interest in the negotiations, we respectfully ask that you approach the leadership of the Spokane Police Guild, prior to certifying issues for arbitration, and reach an agreement to publicly disclose:
a) the issues the two sides have submitted to mediation;
b) the issues that have been resolved’
c) any issues that remain unresolved but which the City and the Guild believe to be outside the scope of mediation;
d) whether Proposition 1, or the issues associated with Proposition 1, are part of the mediation that has been occurring since August of 2012.”
—Tim Connor for the Center for Justice