A tentative agreement between Denver’s police union and the city could be sent back to the bargaining table after several City Council members said Wednesday they did not support it.
The two-year contract would make about $5 million in cuts in 2021 by eliminating extra pay for officers working holidays and decreasing city contributions to a retiree health fund. But in 2022 those cuts would be restored and all union officers would receive a 2.7% raise, which would cost taxpayers an additional $4.4 million a year.
The council’s Safety, Housing and Homeless Committee on Wednesday voted to move the contract to the full 13-member council for a vote, but at least five council members said they did not support the agreement. They cited concerns that it would be unfair to promise raises to police while the rest of city employees take furlough days and that they were not included at the beginning of the bargaining process, though city charter gives them a seat at the table.
“I have a problem assuring a raise when we have no assurances for the rest of our workforce,” Councilman Paul Kashmann said.
The contract’s debut before council comes amid a pandemic-induced city budget crisis and in the wake of protests where thousands called for taxpayer dollars to be reallocated from the police department to fund other services.
Each of the nine people who spoke during public comment opposed the contract. The process should have been public, some said, while others said police should not get raises while the rest of city employees are being asked to take furloughs and pay cuts.
“They get a 3% salary increase while everyone else sacrifices,” said Xóchitl Gaytán, a community organizer. That money could instead be used for other needs in the city, she said.
The Denver Police Protective Association represents about 1,450 members of the department’s rank and file, according to its website. Under the current contract, a police recruit made a salary of $58,633 and more experienced officers make up to $94,630. An officer who achieves the rank of technician, detective or higher makes more than $100,000, according to the department’s website.
The union’s leadership sent a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock on Aug. 21 committing that they would renegotiate the terms for 2022 if the city is still in financial trouble. Hancock previously said he supported the agreement.
“The PPA would like you to know that it is committed to the citizens of this great City and if the economic situation were not to rebound, all that needs to be done is for the City to ask to reopen this contract — as has been done more than once in the past — and we will partner to make sure we always do our part to make this City strong again,” the union wrote in the letter.
Unlike other cities, officers’ discipline, policing policies and oversight are not part of the bargaining process in Denver and city leadership can change those things without agreement from the union.
The contract also does not prevent layoffs in the department, an avenue that Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca floated during the meeting if more cuts are needed.
“Perhaps layoffs are the way to defund the police to meet the will of the people,” she said.
If the council votes against the contract, the city and the union will resume negotiations, said Rob Nespor, the city’s chief negotiator. If they cannot come to another agreement that is different than the first one, the negotiations will go to arbitration. That means that an independent third party would look at the most recent positions of each side and choose what he or she thinks is fair.
That could be risky for the city because the arbitrator could choose a proposal by the union that costs more than the current tentative agreement, Nespor said.
“It’s something that we desperately need to solve for the budget gap next year,” Nespor said of the $5 million cuts.
The negotiations will also set the stage for later bargaining with the unions that represent the city’s firefighters and sheriff deputies, Nespor said. Other city employees are prohibited by charter from collective bargaining.
“I am concerned about the message that this sends to the employees of this city,” Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said. “I am concerned that this sends the message that everyone should unionize because that’s the only way to get a good deal in times like this.”
Three sitting council members have received campaign donations from the Denver Police Protective Association, city records show. Debbie Ortega received $1,000 in 2019, Christopher Herndon received $1,000 in 2019 and Kevin Flynn received a combined $1,300 in 2015 and 2016.
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