Contract negotiations between the city of Seattle and the police union have splintered over a proposal that the city no longer pay the salary and benefits of the union president, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Currently, the city pays Sgt. Rich O’Neill, the president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), $125,000 in salary and benefits under the terms of a 2008 contract while he serves full time as the union’s leader, according to the mayor’s office.
No other union head representing city employees receives a full-time city salary.
The guild’s 1,250 members, who include officers and sergeants, have been working without a contract since the previous one expired in 2010. They are legally barred from striking.
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Negotiations stalled while the city negotiated a landmark settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to address a federal finding in December 2011 that Seattle’s police officers too often resort to excessive force. The city and DOJ reached the agreement in July, clearing the way for further labor talks.
O’Neill and union Vice President Sgt. Ty Elster have sharply criticized the Justice Department’s finding in the union’s newspaper, The Guardian, even as O’Neill has maintained the guild is not opposed to reform.
In addition, the guild joined with the Seattle Police Management Association, which represents captains and lieutenants, in seeking a court injunction to prevent any changes to the department from interfering with their collective-bargaining rights.
Mayor Mike McGinn’s spokesman, Aaron Pickus, declined Tuesday to comment on the city’s position regarding O’Neill’s pay.
“We have been diligently working to negotiate a contract with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild that respects our budget situation and enables full implementation of our Settlement Agreement with the DOJ,” he said in a written statement.
“We are hopeful for a prompt resolution to these negotiations and will not discuss the details while collective bargaining is ongoing.”
O’Neill and the guild’s secretary/treasurer, Ron Smith, pulled Councilmember Bruce Harrell out of a council committee meeting Tuesday morning to complain about the unresolved contract.
Harrell, who heads the council’s public-safety committee and is a member of the council’s Labor Relations Policy Committee, said he couldn’t discuss ongoing labor negotiations.
But he said O’Neill’s visit was not part of the formal, confidential negotiations
and that O’Neill was upset that his salary could be a sticking point.
O’Neill confirmed he had met Tuesday morning with Harrell but would only say that he discussed his frustration over the prolonged negotiations.
“The process of negotiation is supposed to be confidential,” he said.
“What the issues are and what the holdups are is supposed to be confidential. If a City Council person is talking about what the hangups are, that’s not proper. I’d be very critical if a city councilman chose to make this public at this critical time in the negotiation process,” O’Neill said.
The Labor Relations Policy Committee is composed of five City Council members who must approve all city labor contracts.
In general, the committee provides parameters and sets goals for the city’s professional labor-relations staff members who negotiate contracts. They meet behind closed doors and their deliberations are confidential.
City sources said a majority of the council committee is opposed to the city continuing to pay O’Neill’s salary, in part because the city does not pay the full-time salary of any other union executive.
The president of the Seattle firefighters union may receive some city pay to conduct a “reasonable amount” of union business.
In addition to Harrell, council members Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Nick Licata and Mike O’Brien serve on the labor committee. Burgess is the current committee chairman.
Burgess, Clark and Harrell were also the council’s representatives to the DOJ settlement negotiations but withdrew after only a few months, citing an inability to reach consensus with the mayor’s office.
Both the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild and the Seattle Police Management Association donated to McGinn’s re-election campaign.
The guild donated the maximum amount, $700, in May 2010. The management association gave $650, also in May 2010.
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