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Portland Police Association Contract Negotiations, Day One

First impressions of the police contract talks
The Portland Police Association and the representatives of The City met Friday (September 17, 2010) to discuss the cops' new contract. The meeting lasted three hours and was almost entirely devoted to going through the contract item by item and detailing the changes each side wants to see.

The most apparent, and likely more important, aspect of the proceedings was the fact the PPA lawyer Will Aitchison did almost all of the talking. Aitchison was garrulous, confident, and assertive, while the City's rep, Steve Herron was nervous, apologetic, uncertain, tentative and twitchy. (Herron was truly pitiable: I doubt that he could negotiate nap time with a preschooler.) It was obvious to everyone in the room that the Aitchison has the control, and the City is letting him have it. The PPA is setting the agenda, steering the process, and dominating the table.

The third party in the room was the public. Up until now, police contract negotiations have always been closed-door affairs. This time, however, the City insisted that (at least some) of the negotiations be open. About thirty observers were present.

Many of the public observers had rallied immediacy before the meeting with the Fire Frashour Campaign. The campaign has demanded that all the meetings be open to the public, and that the new contract remove the arbitration clause that has made it nearly impossible to boot abusive cops off the force.

Apparently the City is pretty happy with the present contract, however. Nearly all of the suggested changes originated with the PPA, and at this first meeting, most of the discussion centered on things like overtime pay. Tellingly, the City offered no changes to police discipline at all. The PPA on the other hand, made a note that it wanted to discuss the Independent Police Review process at a later date: "We have a whole bunch of proposals concerning the police review board," Aitchison said.

It was interesting to see how much of the discussion was shaped by recent controversies. Specifically, the PPA is looking to remove contract language that prohibits collective action to pressure the City; this was a more-or-less overt reference to the "I am Chris Humphreys" march of last November. Later, Steve Herron, speaking for the City, referred to the same events: "PPA filed a grievance in relation to removal of [an officer's] gun and badge." He suggested clarifying the language so that the "City retains [the] right to remove police power [during] an investigation," though he specified that "wouldn't be disciplinary."

The next meeting is scheduled for October 1, probably in the Portland Building. At that meeting, they hope to finish their line-by-line wish lists. At the meeting following (tentatively scheduled for October 8), they hope to move on to the substantive arguing and deal-making.

The October 1 meeting is open to the public. It hasn't been decided yet whether the others will be.