Labor battles in San Francisco are typically about wages, benefits, and staffing. In tough years, City Hall tries to make cuts, and the unions fight back. Of late, public workers have been demanding wage hikes to address the radical increases in housing costs.
But there’s a potentially huge battle brewing over the contract with the Police Officers Association – and it’s not about pay.
San Francisco already has among the highest-paid cops in the country. The POA has negotiated generous benefits and retirement. And even the harshest critics of the SFPD aren’t saying that officers should be paid less.
But as the union seeks more money, activists are pressuring city negotiators to demand reforms in the way the POA deals with policy changes, particularly around use-of-force and Tasers.
The No Justice No Deal Coalition, made up of 38 organizations and individuals representing police accountability, immigrant, tenant, human rights and faith-based communities, wants the city to demand that the POA stop invoking the right of “meet and confer” when it comes to implementing the federal recommendations for improving the department.
The group is also worried about the role Mayor Mark Farrell is playing in the negotiations. The mayor has supported the POA’s Taser ballot measure and brought political consultant Nathan Ballard, who played a key role in the administration of Ed Lee, aboard as an advisor. Ballard until recently was the communications consultant for the POA.
In a March 13 letter to Mayor Farrell, the group notes:
We are concerned about your retention of Nathan Ballard, a political consultant who has worked with the POA for many years. Tellingly, Mr. Ballard—skilled in political communications strategy—has shared only one of your communiques through his Twitter account: the one supporting the TASER ballot initiative. This is emblematic of a clear conflict of interest when it comes to the negotiation of the new police contract. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. Mr. Ballard taking a short break from the POA does not remotely remove the threat that he will personally profit, and retaining him to advise you on this topic smacks of corruption.
The group wants Farrell to recuse himself from the negotiations and allow the Board of Supes to take over. The supes will have to approve the contract anway.
And the mayor has so far supported Prop. H, the POA’s ballot measure that undermines the Police Commission’s policy on Tasers:
We are also concerned that decisions you’ve made during your short tenure as Mayor demonstrate that you care more about your relationship with the POA than critically-needed police reform or community priorities. For instance, we are appalled by your endorsement of the POA’s TASER ballot measure. As you know, SFPD Chief Scott opposes the measure and listed its critical weaknesses in his departmental analysis. Significantly, he called the ballot measure “the antithesis of the spirit of many of the US DOJ COPS recommendations.” The TASER ballot initiative also enshrines a policy in the city charter that directly contradicts de-escalation, a centerpiece of the US DOJ COPS report. Therefore, your subsequent support for the measure amounts to a rejection of the US DOJ COPS recommendations.
The POA has consistently sought to block reforms by insisting that the commission “meet and confer” on changes. POA President Martin Halloran repeated that claim in a Chronicle oped, saying that the “city must confer with the POA” before finalizing any Taser policy.
That, reformers say, is a misuse of labor law – and in fact, when the POA sued the city in 2016 to block changes in use-of-force laws, the courts found that the commission has the right to set policy for the department and that the union has no right to delay or seek to veto those policy changes.
When the commission voted last week to approve a Taser policy, the POA immediately insisted that it wanted to “meet and confer” – although the commission specifically voted not to do that. And while the room was packed with community members who weighed in on the policy, nobody from the POA showed up.
The group is asking the more for the following:
In sum, we demand a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and POA that prioritizes public safety and police accountability and represents the needs of communities most impacted by over-policing, racial profiling, and police violence. Specifically, we demand:
1. a provision in the new MOU ensuring that the POA will not invoke—or claim the right of—meet-and-confer or interest arbitration regarding any policy enacted or issued to implement the US DOJ COPS recommendations; and
2 your recusal from MOU negotiations by ceding direction of DHR to the Board of Supervisors for this limited purpose.
The Board of Supes Government Audit and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the POA contract Wednesday/21; the meeting starts at 10am. Members of the coalition will gather at 9am outside City Hall.
The full board will take up a proposal Tuesday/20 to change “question time,” the policy requiring the mayor to appear before the supes once a month and answer questions. The current rules, drafted by the-Board President David Chiu and advisors to then-Mayor Ed Lee, have rendered the process largely worthless; the supes have to submit questions in advance in writing, and the mayor gives a written scripted response. There is never any follow up.
Under an ordinance proposed by Sup. Aaron Peskin, the supes would rotate questions on a three-month basis – the members from District 1,2,3, and 4 would ask questions the first month, 5,6,7,and 8 the second month and 9, 10 and 11 the third.
There would be no requirement that questions be submitted in advance. The supes would get to ask a direct question and the mayor would be required to answer. The supe could ask a follow-up, and the mayor could ask the supe a follow-up.
That would bring the program closer to what then-Sup. Chris Daly had in mind when he put this on the ballot – he was looking for a robust debate and discussion on policy issues, in public, involving the mayor and the supervisors.
The vote will be a reflection on the balance of power between the mayor and the board and the need for more open discussion.