Wednesday, November 25, 2020
News + Politics Supes panel declines to reject police contract

Supes panel declines to reject police contract

Deal that committee members agree is deeply flawed will move forward to full board.

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A Board of Supes committee controlled by progressives voted today to send forward a contract with the Police Officers Association that does not require the cops to accept any new reforms without a fight.

Protester in San Francisco, May 31, 2020. Photo by David Schnur

For more than three hours, scores of police-reform advocates implored the Government Audit and Oversight Committee to reject the deal, which would defer some raises for two years but lock in other raises in the future.

The POA, the overwhelming majority of the speakers said, has been the largest obstacle to police reform, using its power of demanding “meet and confer” sessions on everything from body cameras to use of force rules to delay – sometimes by as much as two years – the implementation of reforms.

In a rather stunning moment, Carole Isen, the city’s human resources director, said that the supes had no right under state law to require the cops to back off on their defiance. Two years ago, her office tried to include those reforms in a contract, she said, “under duress.” (That meant under pressure from the public and the supes.)

And she talked about how she needed to protect her department’s working relationship with the POA.

John Crew, a longtime police-reform advocate, told me he was astonished by Isen’s comments. “Of course the city doesn’t have the right to impose limits on meet-and-confer,” he said. “But they have every right to negotiate that as part of a contract. And with the POA’s history, why are we trying to protect the working relationship?”

The memorandum of understanding with the POA was negotiated quickly and in secret by DHR. It was part of Mayor London Breed’s budget, as approved by the board. If the MOU is rejected, the city will be on the hook for about $10 million this year in raises the cops had agreed to defer.

The Police Department budget is more than $700 million, and Breed could easily find that money without cutting anything else.

However, some labor leaders are concerned that Breed – who has the full authority to make cuts if the budget doesn’t add up – will leave the cops alone and go after other public workers.

Rudy Gonzalez, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, testified that reform efforts need to come from the Mayor’s Office and the police chief, and that rejecting the MOU is not the best approach.

In fact, several City Hall sources have told me that the mayor has made it clear she’s not going to go after the SFPD budget but will make cuts to other agencies if the supes reject this deal.

The item was on the calendar as a closed-session discussion, but Chair Gordon Mar allowed the discussion to happen in open session.

All of the committee members said that the Mayor’s Office failed to use this negotiation session as a way to promote reforms. “The mayor negotiated a quiet deal that she said was necessary to close the budget gap,” Mar said. “The Mayor’s Office has not demanded reform, and the leadership has to come from the top.”

He said that the supervisors are now in the position where “we have to accept the status quo or reject the contract,” causing cuts to the budget “without any guarantee of reform.”

It’s true: The POA could just remain obstructive and refuse to come back to the table.  On the other hand, when activists in Austin demanded reforms as a part of the police contact, that’s what they got. “The supervisors have tremendous leverage,” Crew told me.

As he noted in a letter to the committee:

In 2018 — in a very different fiscal environment — the SFPOA turned down the City’s contractual demand for the USDOJ COPS meet and confer / impasse arbitration waiver and took their shot at winning three 4% pay raises from an independent arbitrator. The City countered by offering three 3% pay raises tied to the reform proposal. The arbitrator ended up splitting the difference declining to impose the reform proposal but awarding only the lower pay raise.   Among other things, the arbitrator cited the “impassioned and persuasive testimony” from the members of the #NoJusticeNoDeal Coalition at the public arbitration hearing who’d argued that the value to the City of the police services being purchased under the contract would be considerably less if the SFPOA was not prevented from continuing to block and delay reforms.

In short, we are paying very top dollar for a modern, professional, reformed, as non-violent and anti-racist as possible police department.   We’re still not getting anything close to that with our now $700 million a year investment in SFPD (with most of that going to wages and benefits set by the SFPOA contract).  We have a right to contractually insist — if the SFPOA still wants more pay raises year after year after year — that the union finally put an end to its obstruction of what the public overwhelmingly wants.

Sup. Matt Haney said that the mayor’s moves put the board in “a very frustrating position. If the board votes down this MOU, the cops will get raises they were promised and there could be layoffs of other city workers.”

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who in August told the Examiner that “There is no way in God’s Earth that I am going to trade a contract extension for a wage concession without a meeting of the minds on police reform. I am happy to trade money for public safety and community trust,” told me after the meeting that the threat of the board rejecting the contract has been effective. “They have already made a lot of concessions,” he said.

But the POA has not agreed in a contract to stop demanding meet-and-confer sessions on every item of reform.

So what’s going on here, it appears, is that the mayor behind the scenes is saying she will have to fire other unionized city workers if the supes don’t agreed with a bad deal with the POA.

“If that’s the mayor’s position,” Crew told me, “then she should say it in public.”

The deal will go before the full board Nov. 16.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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