Police: Special Pay Benefits Back, Contract Negotiations Coming Soon
Council charts police union’s path
After a confusing bit of parliamentary gymnastics, City Council last week approved a pair of amendments directing the city manager to resume meet-and-confer negotiations with the Austin Police Association, and also restoring most of the special pay provisions officers lost when union membership voted against extending the old contract back in December. Though police interests praised the action, the city's activist community left the meeting on Thursday feeling like Council had forgotten the voices that only two months ago called for a new approach to public safety spending. At the tail-end of talks, Grassroots Leadership organizer Chris Harris summed up the afternoon: "We're banging our heads against a wall."
The new language enshrines certificate, education incentive, shift differential, court time, mental health, and bilingual pay (in addition to a small clothing allowance) into city ordinance, as each appeared in the last contract, but leaves out longevity and field training incentives. (Those two are already in ordinance and will stay at those base funding levels.) During public hearing, Council heard from APD officers forced to adjust to losing benefits. Officer Albino Cadenas, a member of the APA's negotiating team, said the loss of his bilingual, shift differential, and mental health pay amounted to $850 per month. He said many of his colleagues were being forced to make tough decisions to continue paying their bills; he had to spend more hours away from his wife and toddler working to make up the difference.
Activists countered with their own financial argument. Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore, wearing a sweatshirt that read "Basic Math," reminded Council of the coalition that filled City Hall in December, asking Council to spend less on police and more on other public safety initiatives. While not necessarily opposed to the idea of specialty pay, Moore said the money could be spent in a better way. "We talked about saving up and freeing up some money so we can actually apply money to other areas of public safety, whether it be DNA lab or forensics or some of the other things that community members had concern about," Moore said. "Yet here we are ...."
Harris was more blunt, asking why Council would restore funding when union membership could've agreed to an extension in December. "Three weeks ago, Bryan Richter, the officer that brutalized Breaion King, was finally fired after another brutal arrest," he said. "This is a force that still employs Patrick Spradlin, the officer who made blatantly racist remarks to King in the back of the vehicle. Instead of restoring perks that they walked away from, we ask that you restore the oversight that was also lost when the police left the negotiation table and killed their own contract."
Despite those arguments, council members expressed concern about the impacts on officers and ultimately approved both resolutions. Negotiators will be tasked with increasing field training and longevity in the next round of bargaining. APA President Ken Casaday expressed satisfaction in the results and indicated that the union will be ready to go back to the table as soon as Council gives them a date. As that happens, the activist coalition will continue its work on a plan to overhaul the oversight process with an independent complaint system. "We'd like to see a chance for something like it to get off the ground and see what it can do," Harris said. "And then see how it could be strengthened, potentially, via contract or some other method."