Thursday, November 01, 2018

Austin police union overplaying its hand by rejecting accountability measures

After their President was last seen screaming at city council members for not signing a contract with the Austin Police Association, the union this week rejected all accountability measures proposed by the city, the Austin Statesman reported

Their lead negotiator, Ron DeLord (founder of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and a friend of the blog), told the paper the union wants more money without any new accountability measures, declaring:
“We are in a position once the city makes a financial offer and gives us some idea of what they want in oversight (that) I think we’ll get a deal or no deal next week,” DeLord said. “That could change, but if the city brings a money offer and we can accept it, I think we’ll reach a deal. If we can’t, there may be no contract, or we’ll continue bargaining.”
This is posturing. The city already told them what oversight measures they want, and DeLord rejected them out of hand. Why in heaven's name would the city pony up more money if the union won't agree to any of the measures they requested? The status quo suits the city just fine.

In years past, the big threat was that the union would oppose city council members in low-turnout municipal elections in which they were a big player. But having moved elections to November and switched to single-member districts, that advantage has largely evaporated. Looking at the various council races on the ballot this fall, reformers are likely to end up with even more City Council support, while no competitive candidate of whom I'm aware is championing the police union's message.

Austin police officers are already the highest paid in the state. There's little danger many will quit to go work for less elsewhere. The rich contracts larded on the union for the last two decades will inevitably, effectively serve as golden handcuffs for the foreseeable future. The union president may be angry, but not angry enough to quit and take another job paying tens of thousands of dollars less.

In other words, the union has no leverage. Police administrators have tried to claim, with their usual "sky is falling" tone, that changes to promotions practices which reverted to state law when the contract fell apart somehow justify giving the union extra money. But the fact is, some 70-plus other civil service cities around Texas operate under the state-law provisions. Even if sub-optimal, it's hard to argue those state-law provisions are some huge problem.

The council members most worried about these human-resources issues are mainly focused on expanding diversity at the department. But if that's the concern, they're barking up the wrong tree, anyway. The old provisions weren't some great diversity panacea! (Witness the police-chief finalist list: one white guy.) If the city wants to improve diversity in its police force, it needn't look to the contract. Instead, the city should focus on changing recruitment practices and setting higher and better hiring goals outside the contract. At current salary levels, APD is a good option for any college graduate who wants to settle down here.

Bottom line: There's nothing the union has that the city needs except acquiescence to the reform proposals that they just flatly rejected. If they want a wage hike, or for that matter if they want their stipends renewed that ceased when the contract ended, union negotiators must accept the accountability changes proposed.

The alternative isn't to get the money without agreeing to any reform measures, it's to go home with nothing, like they did last year. That should play well at the next union leadership election.

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