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Negotiations begin anew as public safety contracts expire this year

Tuesday, January 25, 2022 by Amy Smith

With contracts between the city and Austin’s three public safety associations set to expire in September, the Public Safety Commission heard presentations and perspectives from each of the groups and the Austin Justice Coalition on Monday.

The Austin EMS Association, whose uniformed members serve Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, has been at the bargaining table since December with talks expected to end in mid-February. Austin Police Association leaders begin negotiating a new contract in early February, while the Austin Firefighters Association starts its bargaining process in April.

City Attorney Lee Crawford opened with a helpful 101 primer on how the city conducts its labor negotiations on wages, hours and working conditions.

As in previous years, the Austin Police Association’s bargaining talks will likely be the most closely watched and the most hotly debated. APA President Ken Casaday told the commission that after the last APA contract debacle – City Council rejected the police agreement in 2017 – he would be recusing himself from this year’s negotiations after 17 years at the table.

“I felt like it was best that I not participate in this contract and let the younger officers take over,” Casaday said. The rejected contract created an opening for social justice advocates such as the Austin Justice Coalition’s Chas Moore and Chris Harris to have a greater voice in a renegotiated contract. Council approved that contract in 2018.

Casaday said APA’s top concern is staffing – a familiar concern heard throughout the city. “We’re over 200 officers short right now … we are about to graduate an academy that started out with over 100 officers or cadets and I believe right now we’re sitting at around 70 (who are) graduating.” A new cadet class will begin in March with only 60-70 cadets, he said, noting that many of the current staffing issues can be attributed to Covid-19 or other medical issues.

Another gnarly point for police negotiations is certain to be the Office of Police Oversight, which handles police conduct complaints from the public. It’s not uncommon for the APA and the oversight office to be at legal loggerheads.

Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie provided a status report on the association’s progress, with a wage and benefits package the key issue still to be settled.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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