A controversial proposal that would give San Francisco police officers raises without curtailing the police union’s power to stall reform moved closer to approval Thursday when a Board of Supervisors committee declined to vote against it.
Despite raising concerns, Supervisors Gordon Mar, Aaron Peskin and Matt Haney unanimously decided as members of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee to send the proposed contract agreement to the full board for a vote.
The decision came after several hours of public comment from advocates calling on the supervisors to reject the proposal. Some argued that labor negotiators should have used the proposed raises as leverage to shorten the lengthy negotiation process that the San Francisco Police Officers Association has used to halt reform policies.
But city labor negotiators defended the proposal at the hearing, arguing that San Francisco could not legally expedite the process. They described the agreement as a good deal economically.
The supervisors are in a difficult position because rejecting the proposal would place a financial burden on The City during the economic downturn. The proposal would save San Francisco $13 million in the near term by delaying raises that would otherwise kick in as early as December in exchange for giving officers a new six percent wage increase in later years.
The proposal does not include any reform measures.
Mar blamed the predicament on Mayor London Breed, calling the proposal a “tremendous lost opportunity for police reform.” The Department of Human Resources reached the agreement with the SFPOA under her direction in late July after Breed warned that unions could defer raises or face layoffs.
“We have a contract that does not offer more because the Mayor’s Office has not demanded it and leadership on police labor negotiations has to come from the top,” Mar said. “It was a failure of the moment for this mayoral administration.”
Peskin also called the situation a “missed opportunity.” He previously told the San Francisco Examiner that he would not agree to wage increases for officers without the union cooperating on reforms.
On Thursday, Peskin said he had seen some progress in terms of collaboration from the current SFPOA leadership.
“I would like to turn the page with a somewhat more sentient Police Officers Association,” Peskin said, adding that moving the proposal forward could lead to “some other relatively modest but important concessions.”
Haney said the situation was “frustrating” since the board can only approve or reject the proposal and not amend its terms.
Among those opposing the proposal is the Bar Association of San Francisco.
The group has recommended a series of changes to the tentative agreement that would shorten the meet-and-confer process that is known for holding up policies at the Police Commission.
The changes include imposing written deadlines on the process and explicitly limiting the scope of issues DHR negotiates over with the SFPOA.
Rebecca Young, a member of BASF and the Public Defender’s Office, said the current language in the agreement has “historically been used to disempower the Police Commission and the command staff when they intend to effect reform.”
City labor negotiators mounted a defense for the proposal. Acting Human Resources Director Carol Isen said The City could not impose deadlines on the meet-and-confer process under state law.
As a negotiator for The City, Isen unsuccessfully argued for imposing deadlines on the process during arbitration over police contract negotiations in 2018. She said it would not “make sense” to raise the issue again now.
“We cannot compel the POA or any union to waive in whole or in part its meet-and-confer rights under law,” Isen said. “If the union wishes to agree to do that, they can agree to do that. We cannot condition negotiations on their agreement to do so.”
Isen said doing so would amount to “an unfair labor practice.”
“We attempted it under duress honestly at the last round of bargaining because we know this to be true.”
Isen and LaWanna Preston, a labor negotiator for the San Francisco Police Department who previously worked with DHR, both argued rejecting the proposal would be counterproductive to reforms by damaging relations with the SFPOA.
“There is nothing the employer can do other than to work on your labor relationship with your bargaining partners to move things along quickly and expeditiously,” Isen said.
If the supervisors rejected the proposal, Preston said the next round of negotiations over the police contract would “probably be one of the most contentious bargaining sessions The City would have.”
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the proposal Nov. 17.
Mar has also called for a hearing to more closely discuss issues around meet and confer, but no date has been set.