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City Council approves Pittsburgh Police contract

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA

Update, Wednesday, April 5, 2023: Pittsburgh City Council approved a new contract with the city’s police union. After reviewing the terms of the contract behind closed doors, members complimented the police union and the Gainey administration for reaching a deal. The contract raises salaries across the board and, according to the mayor, sets more objective standards for discipline.

Original story:

City Council will formally vote on a new contract for Pittsburgh’s police officers Wednesday — nearly a month after the police union voted to ratify the agreement, but just one day after council received it. On Tuesday, Council members moved to speed up their usual legislative process, which ordinarily takes at least two weeks, to meet a state-mandated deadline in two days.

“We just want to make sure that we are following all the provisions of Act 111,” said City Council solicitor Dan Friedson, referring to the state law that governs police and firefighter collective bargaining agreements. “This is the first time in a couple of decades where that agreement didn't go to arbitration.”

Police contracts have often been made through binding arbitration, in which differences between the two sides are resolved by an outside panel. That didn't happen this time, but the city is bound by another provision of Act 111: an April 6 deadline to approve the contract.

If the city doesn't meet the state deadline, the matter would head into arbitration despite efforts by officials to avoid such a fate.

The Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge #1 voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract early last month. The contract granted raises across the board, made pension plan improvements and codified how officers are disciplined, according to the FOP.

Friedson explained that the union’s vote started the clock on a state law that requires approval of a contract by the “appropriate lawmaking body” within 30 days.

Under the normal legislative timeline, Council would first take a preliminary vote on a bill during a Wednesday standing committee meeting the week after introduction. The bill then receives a final vote at its regular meeting the Tuesday after that. Following that process here would mean council couldn't vote on the contract until April 18.

Instead, council agreed Tuesday to temporarily alter those rules by placing the contract on its Wednesday agenda for discussion with plans to take a final vote on it immediately after.

Even without the sped-up timeline, Council would have little room for debate. Council can't negotiate or change the specifics of the contract, so the vote will simply be an up-or-down vote on the proposal.

And the mayor’s office described the vote as a formality. Maria Montaño, Gainey’s communications director, said although a “plain text reading” of Act 111 gives council authority to vote on the contract, the city’s home rule charter instills power within the executive branch to “move forward anyway,” regardless of council’s vote.

“It’s been signed by the mayor, signed by the FOP leadership and voted on with overwhelming support of officers,” she said.

Joe Mistick, a Duquesne University law professor, argued council’s vote is “more than a rubber stamp.”

“Council would have to approve it or the city would be open to all sorts of litigation,” he said. “You couldn’t fund this contract unless it was funded [by council].”

Mistick argued the city could face a "dilemma" where there was no funding for higher police salaries if council and the mayor's office were at odds. But he said it would be unusual for Gainey's office and City Council to be on opposite sides of this particular issue.

“I can’t imagine a situation in which something this important would be hammered out in the executive branch and it would not be approved by council,” he said.

Still, some council members had questions Tuesday about contract provisions not yet made public.

“We’re going to actually need to look at the details and have some conversations about how they came about some of the decisions,” Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said.

Members met in an executive session later in the day on Tuesday to discuss the specifics of the contract. That will be council's first chance to review its terms with the Gainey administration.

Friedson emphasized the importance of that review.

“We’re in a situation where the mayor's office has asked council and the public to put faith in them and their negotiation with the FOP,” Friedson said. “I guess the question is really to the mayor's office: Why do we have to put so much faith in them without actually reading the full contract in its final form?”

The mayor’s office declined to release the contract on Tuesday, but said it would be made available on the city controller’s website soon. Executive sessions are closed to the public, but Kail-Smith argued that council’s vote on the contract “is the public’s voice.”

“Nobody here is going to vote for something that their constituents feel adamantly against,” Kail-Smith said.

She added that she believes the Gainey administration did a good job negotiating.

“I do think that the administration bargained in good faith, and that's what's important,” Kail-Smith said, adding that it was "exciting" that the agreement was made without an arbiter.

"The public has a voice in this now," she said.

Updated: April 6, 2023 at 6:25 AM EDT
This story was updated to note that City Council approved the new police contract.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.