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City, police union prep for ‘more substantial’ meetings as labor contract nears expiration

Wednesday, July 6, 2022 by Emma Freer

With three months until the current labor agreement expires, the city of Austin and the Austin Police Association are making progress toward a new contract that balances the city’s goals of increased transparency and oversight with the union’s goals of pay raises and other benefits.

“The next couple of meetings will be probably the more substantial meetings,” APA attorney Ron DeLord said. “We’re at that point where we’re responding and getting everything on the table for discussion.” 

The two negotiating teams discussed provisions related to promotions and hiring at their latest meeting on Thursday, with both parties mostly agreeing to standardize the processes for candidates.

“We just feel like, if you leave it up to this (promotions) panel to ask questions, it’s going to be a free-for-all,” said Deven Desai, the city’s chief labor relations officer.

APA, which represents more than 1,600 Austin police officers, also proposed updating the contract to allow the city to offer hiring perks, such as signing bonuses and moving expenses, at its discretion, citing the tight labor market and APD’s long-standing staffing shortages

As of April 6, APD was short 190 sworn officers and 93 civilian staff – a vacancy rate of roughly 12 percent across the department, according to an April 15 memo from Chief Joseph Chacon to city staff. 

“We just don’t want to lose out on qualified people because, maybe everything being equal … someone would go to Fort Worth (over Austin) because they got a $5,000 signing bonus,” said Melanie Rodriguez, Austin Police Women’s Association president and APA board member. “We don’t want to be behind the power curve on that.” 

Over the next three months, the city and APA are likely to get into the nitty-gritty of the negotiation process. 

For instance, city staff promised, “with 99 percent commitment,” to counter APA’s proposal to raise wages up to 20 percent over four years at the next meeting, which is scheduled for late July. The current contract includes across-the-board raises totaling 7 percent over four years.

Similarly, APA’s bargaining team said it would respond to the city’s proposed changes to the contract’s disciplinary provisions, which it presented in June. These include:

  • extending the 180-day rule, which limits when officers can be investigated and disciplined for misconduct
  • shortening the 48-hour rule, which gives officers two days to review evidence regarding misconduct before making a statement to the department
  • increasing transparency around officers’ personnel files

“We have a national outcry on transparency,” Sarah Griffin, the city’s deputy labor relations officer, said at a June 22 meeting. “We have a local outcry. We need more transparency.”

APA representatives chafed at the proposals, saying they were too broad and could hamper the department’s ability to recruit. 

The current contract, which has been in place since November 2018, expires on Sept. 30. Any agreement between the city and APA must be approved by City Council. If the two parties do not reach a compromise by the deadline, the contract will remain in place through March. 

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