You know how sometimes you have some esoteric technical knowledge, but people discuss the topic incorrectly and it makes you insane but you can’t correct them without sounding pretentious? Like how classical was a period in instrumental concert music but not the entire genre? Or that a cocktail is a specific drink involving spirits and bitters, not the generic for all mixed drinks?
Anyhow, that’s how I feel about the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Having consulted for Service Employees International Union Local 1021 on public sector collective bargaining, I have to understand the obligations of governments to bargain with unions. Yet we often read that a police reform can’t be implemented because The City has to negotiate with the POA, which won’t agree or is going to arbitration. Like the problem comes from the union’s bargaining rights, and not from city leadership. This is incorrect.
A Department of Justice review of the San Francisco Police Department resulted in 250 recommendations in response to police killings of black and Latino people. Although overall use of force dropped 18 percent in 2016 and 2017, it is still disproportionately used on blacks and Latinos. Moreover, last year the report commissioned by the Public Defender’s Office found that racial disparities in San Francisco did not result from prosecutors, juries,or judges, but in police arresting and charging black people more aggressively than any other group.
And then there was the 2016 report of the District Attorney’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on the SFPD, which found that the POA was run amok and had turned SFPD into a racist old boys’ club.
Which means that scrutiny of the POA’s undue influence on the SFPD is based on local conditions and black and Latino people killed tragically and unnecessarily by police.
Recent POA negotiations drew fresh attention on interest arbitration procedures and 1990’s Proposition D charter amendment that referred bargaining disputes to arbitration. Proponents of police reform have wondered if the cause of reform might be served by reforming these procedures.
Labor law distinguishes the right to bargain over a managerial decision from its effect. With few exceptions, employers have a right to make decisions about how they manage operations, for instance, by moving a factory to Mexico. Unions can protest, but there is no legal obligation for the employer to bargain.
On the other hand, the employer does have an obligation to bargain over the effects of those decisions on working conditions. Using the factory example, to bargain over severance pay for displaced workers.
The Police Commission has been developing a taser policy, as well as trying to get police to stop shooting into moving cars and to stop using the choke hold that killed Eric Garner.
The POA does not have a right to bargain (or in the parlance of California public sector “meet and confer,” which is the same as bargain) over these decisions. It can bargain the effects on working conditions — how officers will be notified and trained, consequences for noncompliance, etc. If bargaining results in arbitration, the arbitrator only has authority to rule on an issue subject to arbitration, the effects.
The POA, like any creative negotiator, can connect many decisions to working conditions, but bargaining over the effects until arbitration can only delay implementation. It’d be nice if the POA expressed any recognition at all about the systemic racism they’ve promoted, but such is our lot.
If The City doesn’t use arbitration effectively or agrees to bargain over decisions it has no legal obligation to, that’s on The City. The City of San Francisco knows how to assert its managerial rights thoroughly, and does so with other unions. The Department of Human Resources, Police Commission and City Attorney can’t implement police reform without political support.
The failure to do so with the POA is a failure of political will on the part of the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. Send dinner invites @natogreen or buy his new album, “The Whiteness Album,” wherever comedy is streamed or downloaded.
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