The city of Minneapolis and a coalition of police-reform organizations have settled a lawsuit over expanding public access to contract negotiations with the Minneapolis police union.
As a result, the city will have to publish the time and location of its public bargaining sessions with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and ensure the public may observe.
The terms of the agreement will last through three contracts, or until Dec. 31, 2028, whichever comes first.
"For the first time ever — that any of us in MPLS for a Better Police Contract know of — the city is now committed to publishing notice of public negotiations sessions," said lawyer Stacey Gurian-Sherman, who served as co-counsel with Micala Tessman.
Minneapolis officials declined to comment.
The lawsuit was filed last year and stems from the desire of three organizations — Communities United Against Police Brutality, Racial Justice Network, and Our Revolution Twin Cities — to witness police contract negotiations.
Organized under the name "MPLS for a Better Police Contract," the coalition created 14 recommendations for the contract, including limiting the number of hours an officer can work per week, mandating each officer get a mental health screening every three years and clarifying the city will not reimburse officers for legal costs incurred during their nonduty personal time.
"We had an agreement on those [recommendations] from a number of City Council members," said Dave Bicking of Communities United Against Police Brutality. "We were told that those would be considered in the negotiations. And then we weren't allowed to witness that negotiation to see if that was really the case."
The Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) states, "All negotiations, mediation sessions, and hearings between public employers and public employees or their respective representatives are public meetings except when otherwise provided by the commissioner."
In 2019, the police reform organizations presented their recommendations to the city's director of labor relations and began asking when negotiations would take place so they could attend. They were given scheduling information for one upcoming negotiation session.
But the police union requested negotiations be moved into mediation, a nonpublic process. The session was canceled.
As contract talks continued, the organizations complained to the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services about the city's refusal to disclose information.
BMS Deputy Commissioner Michael Stockstead responded that while he was "disappointed the city of Minneapolis has chosen not to comply with statute," his agency lacked the power to enforce PELRA. "I am at a loss and suspect court may be your only relief," Stockstead said.
In its subsequent lawsuit, MPLS for a Better Police Contract asked the court to order the city to create an "advisory committee" of seven community members — including four representatives of MPLS for a Better Police Contract — to advise the city's director of labor relations and review any proposed agreement before City Council approval.
The coalition also made official requests for notes taken during the public negotiation sessions they could not attend. The city denied those requests, saying no written information passed over the table between its negotiators and the police union.
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis then petitioned for "intervenor" status in the lawsuit, saying it had a right to defend its interests in MPLS for a Better Police Contract's attempt to "insert itself as a party in the collective-bargaining process."
The city argued that even if PELRA were allegedly violated, state law provides "no private remedy" for "aggrieved members of the public" because that law deals with disputes between public employers and their employees.
"Plaintiff as an organization is not a public employer and none of its members have alleged that they are public employees represented by the [police union]," wrote Assistant City Attorney Gregory Sautter.
In February, Judge Bridget Sullivan sided with the city's analysis, reasoning that talks between the city's negotiators and the police union were not subject to open-meeting laws because the negotiators themselves could not be considered "public employers" without "final budgetary approval authority" for city employees. That power rests with the City Council, wrote Sullivan.
The judge concluded that MPLS for a Better Police Contract could not continue to sue under PELRA and threw out the police union's request to intervene as therefore moot.
At the same time, Sullivan decided that MPLS for a Better Police Contract's claim of Data Practices Act violations could continue.
Gurian-Sherman, plaintiff's lawyer, disagreed with the judge's conclusion that the public had no remedy under PELRA. "Public negotiations are considered a public meeting. If you ask for the date, time and locations of those meetings, and the city entity does not provide it, then it turns upside down the whole notion of allowing the public to go to a meeting," she said.
This spring — nine months into the lawsuit — the city of Minneapolis turned over about 200 pages of notes taken during the bargaining sessions.
On the eve of trial, scheduled for Oct. 31, the parties discussed settling out of court.
An agreement was near-unanimously approved by the Minneapolis City Council (Council Member Michael Rainville was absent) on Nov. 3 and signed by Mayor Jacob Frey on Nov. 7. The council authorized paying the plaintiff $60,000 for attorney fees.
The city's current police labor agreement was adopted in March. The contract included raises and $7,000 bonuses for officers. It will expire at the end of the year.
A "contract negotiations" page was added to the city's website this summer. It states that the city anticipates contract negotiations to begin after Oct. 24, and intends to post the dates, times and locations when known.
The city will hold an online meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday to discuss key findings of earlier listening sessions on the contract. To join, call 612-276-6670 and use conference ID 723 461 387#.