Two months after Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced he was withdrawing from labor negotiations with the police union, the city continues to talk with them.
Just without the chief involved.
Arradondo made headlines across the country when he announced, a few weeks after George Floyd’s death, that he was “immediately withdrawing from the contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Police Federation.”
However, negotiations have not ceased. The city, state and police federation met for another mediation session last week.
“The city has been in mediation continuously since December 2019, and is still in mediation,” city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said. “The chief has not participated in the negotiations since his announcement, but the mediation has continued.”
It’s unclear exactly what the sticking points are in the negotiations. If they reach an agreement, the contract will need to be approved by the mayor and City Council.
In a statement released Wednesday, Arradondo said that he wouldn’t return to the bargaining table until he’d had a chance to consult with experts and others.
“It is important to me, as chief, that the contract is one that strengthens our efficiency, has strong accountability measures and values the communities we serve,” he said in the statement.
The union contract has become a point of contention as the city debates how to overhaul policing following Floyd’s death.
Many of the city’s elected leaders have described the contract — which they must ultimately approve — as an obstacle to implementing reforms desperately needed to reduce racist behavior in the ranks. Police union leaders have said they feel they’re being scapegoated, and many of their contractual rights are enshrined in Minnesota state law.
When Arradondo made his announcement, he said he hoped to consult subject matter experts for advice on how to reconstruct the contract to provide more transparency and “more flexibility for true reforms.”
He reiterated that stance again on Wednesday.
“I continue my intentional pause in my participation in the contract negotiations process while I am in discussions with professionals who have been evaluating contracts from across the country,” his statement read.
Supporting Arradondo when he made his initial announcement was Mayor Jacob Frey, who issued a statement saying: “There are valid reasons for a party to step away from bargaining.”
A mayoral spokesman on Wednesday said that Frey and Arradondo had discussed the decision before the chief’s announcement.
Some on the City Council described the announcement as a publicity stunt and said they doubted the city actually had the authority to step away from the talks. They questioned whether leaving would give the union grounds to file a costly unfair labor practices lawsuit. Others noted that city rules state the Executive Committee, which includes Frey and some council members, directs labor negotiations, and the decision hadn’t gone through them.
“The mayor appreciated and supported the chief’s goals at the time and is looking forward to continue working alongside him to negotiate the best contract possible for Minneapolis residents,” Mychal Vlatkovich, the spokesman for Frey’s office, said in an e-mail.
The police federation has been working for months under an expired contract. Their last three-year contract expired at the end of 2019. Shortly before that, the city and the union began working with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services to try to reach an agreement on a new contract. According to the state, they held six mediation sessions from January through March, and paused after COVID-19 was confirmed in Minnesota.
Floyd was killed in late May. Arradondo announced in June that he was withdrawing from the talks. The contract has been the subject of much debate among reform groups like Communities United Against Police Brutality, which have long argued that community members should have a say in how such labor agreements are composed.
The contract language affects many city processes.
A week and a half after Floyd was killed, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced it was filing a civil rights charge against the city and investigating whether the Minneapolis Police Department had engaged in racial discrimination over the past 10 years.
The city and state negotiated a temporary restraining order, which requires Minneapolis to quickly implement changes to the department. Among other changes, it speeds up part of the disciplinary process, requires a wider audit of body camera footage, bans chokeholds and strengthens the requirement to intervene if a colleague is using inappropriate force.
The agreement was filed in court and approved by a judge, who has the ability to act if the city doesn’t follow through on the changes or comply with the state’s investigation.
Earlier this week, the federation asked the court for approval to participate in the case. James Michels, an attorney for the union, said they wanted the chance to defend their officers and that the city’s interests, at times, conflict with those of the union members.
“If a party to the case, the Federation could ensure that its statutory and contractual rights and those of its members are considered in any proceedings or ultimate resolution of the case,” Michels wrote in a memorandum. “The Federation prefers to work with the State and the City to address legitimate issues and necessary reforms in ways that are meaningful yet consistent with statutes and contract.”
He added later: “Participation as a party now would preserve judicial resources by negating the need for the Federation to bring separate proceedings to contest any mandates that it may believe to infringe upon those rights.”