Stages of Labor
EMS stalls again, police association eyes final hurdle
The city's meet-and-confer talks with the Austin-Travis County EMS Association are once again on ice until at least next summer. The two sides met Nov. 30 to discuss the stopgap measure City Council desired, but were ultimately only able to agree on a provision to take care of the 15 employees with pay conflicts as a result of the contract's lapse. It's far short of what Council had asked the city's Labor Relations team to negotiate: in which the city could have kept its coveted hiring and promotions articles while giving the union a continuance of its representation setup.
"We agreed that since we could not agree to a full reinstatement of the contract, that we would just deal with that issue," explained interim Labor Relations Officer Larry Watts. The union came back to the table later that afternoon with a proposal that would've provided for union representation, including administrative leave for union officials, but the city wouldn't accept that, if hiring and promotions weren't included in the deal. Watts said accepting a deal without those provisions wouldn't have been in keeping with Council directives.
ATCEMSA President Tony Marquardt later voiced continued frustration with the city's approach to their negotiations, once again comparing proceedings to a used car sale. But he said the tenor could change with the arrival of a new city manager ("Point Austin: Double Top Secret Probation," p.14). "In negotiations you sell something to get something, and that's been the city's approach," he said. "What we've identified clearly is we're below market for the paramedic profession, and we're behind our public safety fellows. And so those things are the reality."
The police contract remains the city's other outstanding agreement, but that one moved one step closer to ratification on Monday when it was endorsed by a majority vote of the Public Safety Commission. (Commissioners were revisiting a discussion started last month that was ended prematurely because many members hadn't read up on the language.) All on the same page on Monday, it became clear that final arguments by Police Chief Brian Manley and Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday greatly influenced proceedings, in particular at one weird moment when Commissioner Carol Lee failed to garner a second for a motion that suggested – as has become a citywide motif – that the new city manager should have a chance to weigh in on the contract, and therefore the current language should stay in effect for two years instead of five. The proposal was seen by some as an attempt to bridge the gap between certain commissioners who have fiscal concerns about the new contract, with those who've taken issue with its commitment to social justice – which made it odd that Commissioner Daniela Nuñez, who issued a biting critique of the contract, didn't second the motion.
Nuñez said on Tuesday that she'd heard whispers about Lee's resolution before the meeting, but hadn't heard whether community members would support it. Additionally, "I would've wanted it to be more of an outright rejection [of the contract]," she said, adding that it was "pretty clear from the discussion" that the proposal wouldn't have garnered the necessary support. Another motion to recommend the contract to Council passed 6-2. Council is expected to take up the issue next week – either on Wednesday or Thursday, Dec. 13 or 14.