The judge’s decision could establish whether the court or collective bargaining will be the guiding force under a consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department to address excessive force and biased policing.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has asked the federal judge overseeing court-ordered police reforms to step into a labor dispute with the Police Department’s management union, saying the conflict could have a “material effect” on the timing of proposed accountability measures.
In a request filed Tuesday evening, the city asked U.S. District Judge James Robart to hold a hearing to clarify the impact of an unfair-labor-practice complaint filed Oct. 20 by the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), which represents 74 captains and lieutenants.
The SPMA contends the process laid out by the court for moving forward on accountability legislation to be presented to the City Council — including measures involving officer discipline — violates the city’s obligation to first bargain with the union.
The state’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) has agreed to hear the complaint.
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That puts the city at risk of “being subjected to conflicting legal obligations in different forums,” according to the city’s request.
If Robart agrees to hold a hearing, it would provide an opportunity for the judge to establish whether the court or collective bargaining will be the guiding force under a 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department requiring the Police Department to address excessive force and biased policing.
Capt. Mike Edwards, president of the SPMA, said Wednesday the union will wait for the next step.
Robart’s decision also could have implications for the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), which represents about 1,275 sergeants and officers.
It joined with the SPMA in submitting a letter to the court on Aug. 9, stating the accountability recommendations violated their collective bargaining rights.
At an Aug. 15 court hearing, Robart, reacting to the SPOG’s rejection of a tentative labor contract, said he would not let the powerful labor group hold the city “hostage” by linking wages to constitutional policing.
“To hide behind a collective-bargaining agreement is not going to work,” Robart said.
Talks between SPOG and the city are taking place under the guidance of a mediator, according to a City Hall source familiar with the negotiations.
The SPMA’s unfair-labor-practice complaint alleges the city and Police Department have made numerous unlawful and unilateral changes to working conditions dating to 2013 under the terms of the consent decree. It also cited the proposed accountability legislation.
In reply, PERC found a number of the older claims to be untimely or insufficient while agreeing to hear the legislation issue.
Edwards, the SPMA president, said the union will file an amended complaint to address deficiencies cited by PERC.
The SPMA’s contract with the city expired in December 2011, but the terms of the contract remain in effect. The two sides have been unable to reach a new agreement.
In filing the complaint, Edwards said, the SPMA’s goal hasn’t been to overturn the reforms but to get the city to bargain a new, long-overdue contract.
Throughout, Edwards said, the SPMA has been instrumental in helping the department carry out reforms.
The city, in early October, submitted to Robart proposed accountability legislation that would include a powerful new inspector general.
It also would retain the department’s independent Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which investigates alleged misconduct by officers.
Under the proposal, the OPA, already led by a civilian director, would also be staffed by civilians rather than by sworn officers. The scope of its work also would increase.
Robart is reviewing the proposed legislation before it goes to the City Council.
The city, in its request filed Tuesday, noted the proposed legislation says any provision requiring collective bargaining shall not become effective until that occurs.
“However, if the City first needs to bargain with SPMA and/or SPOG about the substantive terms of the draft accountability legislation before the Court begins or completes its review, and before the legislation is considered by the City Council, such bargaining would likely have a material effect on the Court’s projected timeline and planned next steps,” the filing says.