Negotiations are starting again as public safety contracts expire this year

Tuesday January 25, 2022 by Amy Smith

With contracts between the city and Austin’s three public safety associations expiring in September, the Public Safety Commission Monday heard presentations and perspectives from each of the groups and the Austin Justice Coalition.

The Austin EMS Association, whose uniformed members serve Austin-Travis County’s emergency medical service, has been at the negotiating table since December, with talks expected to end in mid-February. Austin Police Association leaders begin negotiations for a new contract in early February, while the Austin Firefighters Association begins its negotiation process in April.

Prosecutor Lee Crawford opened with a helpful 101 foundation on how the city conducts its labor negotiations on wages, hours, and working conditions.

As in years past, Austin Police Association collective bargaining is probably the most closely watched and most hotly debated. APA President Ken Casaday told the commission that following the last APA contract debacle — the city council rejected the police agreement in 2017 — he would step down from this year’s negotiations after 17 years at the table.

“I thought it best not to be a part of this contract and let the junior officers take over,” Casaday said. The rejected treaty created an opportunity for social justice advocates like Chas Moore and Chris Harris of the Austin Justice Coalition to have a bigger voice in a renegotiated treaty. The Council approved this contract in 2018.

Casaday said the APA’s primary concern is recruitment — a well-known concern heard across the city. “We are currently short of over 200 officers … we are on the verge of completing an academy that started with over 100 officers or cadets and I think right now we are sitting at about 70 (who) are graduating.” A new class of cadets will be in the Starting March with just 60 to 70 cadets, he said, noting that many of the current staffing issues are due to Covid-19 or other medical issues.

Another gnarly point for police negotiations will surely be the Office of Police Oversight, which handles complaints from the public about police behavior. Legal disputes between APA and the supervisory authority are not uncommon.

Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie provided a status report on the association’s progress, with a salary and benefits package as the key issue to be resolved.

Photo provided by a Creative Commons license.

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