The Minneapolis police union wants a state mediator to intervene in the current contract talks with the city after it says public negotiations stalled last month.

Officer wages have remained a sticking point since collective bargaining began in September. The biweekly three-hour meetings have been "ineffective" in addressing the union's key issues, said Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.

The union opted to file for mediation with the Bureau of Mediation Services on Dec. 1 — the same day city officials canceled a bargaining session scheduled for Dec. 4 "due to illness."

A city spokeswoman declined to say whether the labor negotiating team agrees with the decision to pursue mediation at this stage. But she said the most recent police contract was also reached under state mediation, which is not unusual.

"The City looks forward to continuing our discussions in furtherance of an agreement," she said in a statement to the Star Tribune.

For months, the union has sought double-digit pay raises for its rank-and-file officers. It has argued that wages have not kept pace with many suburban law enforcement agencies, which are competing for the same limited pool of candidates. But city leaders balked at the union's request for a one-year 13.25% raise, saying they could not manage the $11 million price tag.

"That's excessive," said Rasheda Deloney, director of labor relations for the city. "I can only assume that you know the city can't pay that in one year."

As of Dec. 2, the Minneapolis Police Department employed 568 officers — with 25 on long-term leave — down from about 900 in 2020, said Sgt. Garrett Parten. Mayor Jacob Frey and Chief Brian O'Hara say replenishing the ranks is critical to maintaining the downward trends in violent crime the city has seen this year, a respite from a sharp rise in homicides and record gun violence over the past three years.

City and union officials reached a tentative agreement on hiring and retention that would pay $18,000 to eligible officers in three installments over the next 2½ years, as well as $15,000 in incentive bonuses for new hires.

But in an 8-5 vote in November, the City Council rejected the $15 million incentives package after a contentious and lengthy meeting. Critics opposed draining a $19 million one-time infusion of state funds and questioned whether the incentives would do enough to curb attrition on the force.

The police union said mediation offers the "most efficient path forward" to settling their contract.

"We spent weeks negotiating recruitment and retention bonuses that the City Council rejected," Schmidt said in a statement. "We believe that any negotiated agreement will meet the same fate.

"We look forward to negotiating a fair contract that includes the competitive wages and benefits many of the City Council members mentioned in their testimony, as important pieces to recruiting and retaining officers."

A public bargaining session scheduled for next Wednesday has been canceled.

Under state law, either party — whether public employers or labor unions — can request that negotiations be moved into mediation, a closed process that bars public observers and shields any documents from potential data requests.

The Bureau of Mediation Services "must deny this request for what it is — an obvious and cynical attempt to use mediation as a pretext to remove negotiations from public scrutiny," said Stacey Gurian-Sherman of MPLS for a Better Police Contract, a coalition of police reform groups that successfully fought to open Police Department labor negotiations to the public for the first time in the city's history.

"It's simply premature," she said, arguing that there was not enough evidence of an impasse during current talks to justify mediation.

Police watchdogs like Gurian-Sherman have criticized city negotiators throughout the process for failing to demand that the contract includes tangible reforms to enhance accountability. She said that should make residents skeptical of the city's "willingness and ability" to effectuate court-ordered changes to the Police Department.

Minneapolis' current police labor agreement was adopted in March 2022 after state mediation and expired the following Dec. 31.