Austin police labor contract negotiations come to halt over oversight disagreement

Labor contract negotiations between the Austin Police Association and City of Austin came to an impasse due to a disagreement over police oversight Thursday. 

In a statement, a City of Austin spokesperson wrote, "The APA abruptly declared during a negotiation session that it would oppose removing and separating police oversight from the contract process, despite the City having made clear that such a measure was important to achieving a fair labor agreement that had community support, and despite the Association’s prior willingness to jointly work on such a goal."

Equity Action is a nonprofit "focused on strengthening and advancing local transformative criminal justice efforts." Board Member Chris Harris said the group does not "think oversight, accountability, and transparency are things that should be negotiated."

"We think that a stable system should be created that isn’t subject to change every four years, isn’t subject to grievances from the police association, and that ultimately is something that our community and our elected officials decide on," Harris said.

"If you make it where its anti-police activists that are part of the oversight, then you will need an oversight over the oversight… How are we going to recruit officers or retain them when they are giving the perception that they are antagonistic toward the police?" said Cleo Petricek of public Safety PAC Save Austin Now.

The Austin spokesperson wrote that the City’s labor relations office "is willing to continue to negotiate with the union over pay and conditions of employment, if the Association is willing to continue discussions on removal of the police oversight provisions from the contract." 

The union is asking for a 20 percent raise. The city is offering 10 percent. 

Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal wrote, "The Austin Police Association believes that being under contract with the City is in the best interest of the citizens of Austin, the City of Austin, the Austin Police Department and our officers. We remain open and willing to bargain towards a contract that provides fair working conditions, fair wages and due process protections for our officers while working toward a middle ground on issues important to the City. We look forward to the City letting us know when we can continue negotiations.

Complicating matters, Harris said an unknown group is impersonating Equity Action.

A 2021 arbitration decision limited the Office of Police Oversight’s powers. The non-profit collected signatures to place a measure on the May ballot to restore them.

Canvassers are now collecting signatures for a petition they have said, in videos released by Equity Action, is Equity Action’s. However, Harris said Equity Action is done collecting signatures. 

In a statement, an Equity Action spokesperson said the petition canvassers are attempting to get Austinites to sign is similar to Equity Actions but would result in "a significantly weaker police oversight proposal."

Last year, Save Austin Now was accused of spearheading a misleading petition campaign. FOX 7 Austin asked Petricek if the PAC is involved in this year's campaign, she said "No, absolutely not. We are not involved with any petitions."

Read the petitions here.