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Austin police union says it won't negotiate a temporary labor contract with the city

The back of a police officer next to a police cruiser
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The city's current labor contract with police expires at the end of March.

Austin's police union says it won't negotiate a one-year extension of its labor contract, arguing it's already done the work to secure a long-term deal.

The Austin Police Association board decision comes days after the Austin City Council voted to pursue a one-year dealto allow Austinites to decide between two police oversight-related ballot measures in May. City staff previously had negotiated four-year deals.

If an agreement isn't reached, the union's contract will expire at the end of March. Under state law, officers would then be covered by a civil service agreement, but it would lack the benefits of a union-city deal — namely payouts for vacation and sick time accrued.

The APA has argued that if a four-year deal isn't reached, as many as 250 officers could retire to cash in before the civil service agreement kicks in.

In a statement, union president Thomas Villarreal said Council's decision Wednesday undermined a year of negotiations on a four-year deal.

"[We] have engaged in robust and comprehensive negotiations for a long-term contract. A process that all of city council has been aware of and a process which has been open to the public both in person and remotely," he said. "No part of this was a secret or a surprise."

Former City Manager Spencer Cronk pushed for the longer deal. His decision to announce it last week was met with pushback from Council members and ultimately contributed to the decision to fire him.

Council wanted to pursue the shorter contract to allow voters to decide between dueling ballot propositions in May — one that would give more power to the city's Office of Police Oversight and a citizen-led review panel and another backed by the union that could limit the office.

Kathy Mitchell with Equity Action, a criminal justice advocacy nonprofit pushing for more oversight, told KUT the union's decision could force officer retirements.

"By refusing to talk about a one-year agreement [which would extend] the officer benefits, including the separation payment they get when they decide to leave, APA is encouraging officer retirements," she said.

Villarreal did not respond to a request for comment before deadline. The union has said officers who want to leave the force must file paperwork by next week in order to retain their payouts under the current contract.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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