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Council moves to extend police pay package, incentivize bargaining

Thursday, January 25, 2024 by Emma Freer

City Council recently directed the city manager to extend the package of pay and benefits for police enacted last year in the face of stalled labor contract negotiations. With the Austin Police Association still refusing to return to the bargaining table, Council also directed the city manager to implement a controversial bonus program for officers that incentivizes the union to bargain. 

Council approved the measure as part of its consent agenda at its Jan. 18 meeting. Mayor Kirk Watson anticipates Council will vote on the extension ordinance at its next meeting, on Feb. 1, according to a recent issue of his Watson Wire newsletter.

The extension, as envisioned by Council, would guarantee officers’ current salaries and benefits for another year after the current pay package expires on March 31. APA President Michael Bullock, a senior officer at the Austin Police Department, told the Austin Monitor such a move is “an important signal to officers that there will be some stability.”

The extension also would maintain financial incentives for new cadets and for current APD officers in an effort to alleviate staffing shortages. 

In a new development, however, the extension ordinance also would include bonuses related to the labor contract negotiation process, providing each officer $500 if APA returns to the bargaining table and another $2,500 if an agreement is reached by June 30, according to the Watson Wire. 

Both APA leadership and police reform advocates question this logic. 

Bullock told the Monitor that the union wants to be under contract but will not resume bargaining until a lawsuit – regarding the implementation of the Austin Police Oversight Act – is resolved, regardless of any bonuses. 

“That language is not anything that I asked for or that members have asked for,” he said. “I get the intent behind it, but we are already incentivized to have a contract.” 

Equity Action, which spearheaded the May 2023 ballot measure that saw voters overwhelmingly pass the Austin Police Oversight Act, sued the city earlier this year for failing to enact certain provisions of the law, including one that requires the city’s Office of Police Oversight to have access to certain APD personnel records. These include the so-called G file, personnel files that include any allegations of officer misconduct that were found to be unwarranted or that resulted in disciplinary action short of a suspension of at least one day. 

APA has long voiced concerns about expanding access to the G file, citing the possibility of false allegations and violating officers’ right to due process, as the Monitor has previously reported

But Watson said in his newsletter that any future labor contract will eliminate the confidential G file, whatever the lawsuit’s outcome.

“Austin voters have already provided the guidance,” he wrote. “They said no g-file. So, regardless of the court ruling, if we’re going to have the thing we all agree is the most important thing for getting more police – a contract – the contract can’t allow for a g-file.” 

Chris Harris, policy director for the Austin Justice Coalition and president of Equity Action, echoed this sentiment. 

“It’s really important that, in the context of talking about the next police contract, the community understands that the council remains fully in support of the voter-backed ballot measure from last year and whatever gets negotiated will fully conform to that measure,” he told the Monitor.

Harris also pushed back against the proposed bonus program.

“If (APA believes) that a contract is important, then the city shouldn’t have to pay them to come back to the table,” he said. “So we have a lot of concerns about this measure, trying to spend dollars that could be used to help people today instead of being wasted on paying people to do things that they already want.” 

Photo by Highway Patrol Images courtesy of CC BY 2.0via Wikimedia Commons.

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