Sgt. Rich O’Neill, who was a polarizing figure when he ran the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) from 2006 to 2014, played a behind-the-scenes role in the overwhelming defeat of a tentative contract, according to sources.
Former Seattle police-union President Rich O’Neill led the successful effort to defeat a proposed labor contract containing key reforms, according to sources familiar with the matter.
O’Neill, who was a polarizing figure when he ran the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) from 2006 to 2014, played a behind-the-scenes role in the overwhelming defeat, announced last week, of the four-year contract, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
O’Neill appeared at three informational sessions during the voting process, at which he cast doubt on the contract’s terms, one source said.
“He led the opposition,” said another source in City Hall briefed on O’Neill’s role.
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O’Neill re-emerged publicly Wednesday in a return role with SPOG, when the union announced he had been sworn in as vice president amid a power shake-up within the 1,275-member union.
He replaced Kevin Stuckey, who was sworn in as president Wednesday to replace Ron Smith, who recently resigned in the aftermath of a controversial Facebook post.
O’Neill, a sergeant in the department, declined to comment and hung up on a Seattle Times reporter when reached by phone Wednesday.
Stuckey did not return a phone message. But a SPOG news release said, at a membership meeting Wednesday, Stuckey told members he remained committed to the federally mandated reform process and looked forward to returning to the bargaining table with the city.
Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who formed a strong working relationship with Smith, said Wednesday she will work in “good faith” with the guild as her department continues to move “full-speed ahead” on reforms to address federal allegations of excessive force and evidence of biased policing.
The guild voted 823 to 156 to reject the tentative contract, according to a source who said the city’s offer asked union members for too many giveaways while not offering enough in return.
Terms of the contract offer have not been disclosed, although an internal summary outlining wage hikes and measures giving O’Toole more management authority was earlier leaked to The Stranger newspaper.
City Attorney Pete Holmes announced Wednesday that a Seattle ethics commission will investigate the leak of the confidential labor document that occurred during union voting on the proposed contract.
The investigation will be carried out by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Holmes said.
“Rejection of the collective bargaining agreement … threatens to set back Seattle’s federally-monitored police reform efforts,” Holmes said in a statement, referring to a 2012 agreement between the city and U.S. Justice Department to adopt changes to curb excessive force and biased policing.
Smith, who helped negotiate the tentative contract, was immediately ousted by SPOG’s board after he stepped down in the wake of his Facebook post regarding the fatal shootings of five Dallas police officers on July 7.
He wrote, in part, “The hatred of law enforcement by a minority movement is disgusting … #Weshallovercome.”
Smith said he resigned because he expected the union board to ask for his resignation or seek his ouster.
But Smith called the board’s action a “red herring,” saying its anger actually stemmed from his pragmatic approach to the federal reforms, his collaborative relationship with O’Toole and his acceptance of accountability measures as part of the tentative contract with the city.
Asked about O’Neill’s role during the voting process, Smith said Wednesday he didn’t want to get into details, but stated that O’Neill mounted an “all-out campaign” to defeat the contract.
During O’Neill’s tenure as guild president, he garnered a reputation as a staunch defender of collective-bargaining rights, who worked tirelessly for his members.
But he alienated people in city government and the community with comments that excessive-force complaints had been overblown, and SPOG’s newspaper, The Guardian, published articles bitterly attacking the Justice Department.
O’Neill also fought to keep secret the names of disciplined officers.
In 2013, after the federal reforms were agreed upon, O’Neill struck a more conciliatory tone, saying it was time to put aside complaints and “move forward” with the changes.
In 2008, O’Neill made Seattle police officers the highest paid law-enforcement officers in the state under a labor contract in which the guild conceded to 29 recommendations aimed at improving police accountability.