How police can extract pay boosts in hard times

A look at the linkage between generous contracts and minor concessions on civilian oversight.

Crosscut archive image.

King County Executive Ron Sims. (King County)

A look at the linkage between generous contracts and minor concessions on civilian oversight.

In late 2008, King County signed a five-year agreement with its powerful Police Officers Guild. Even as the storm clouds had already started raining on the economy, the county agreed to 5 percent raises each year for the officers. As outlined in this Seattle Times story, an officer starting at $54,671 would be at $76,557 in 2013. That's the infamous 27 percent boost that columnist Danny Westneat wrote about and has got the public's angry attention.

The cops are not at all swayed by other unions in King County agreeing to forgo cost-of-living increases for 2011. (For only one year, apparently, with COLAs kicking back in for the two subsequent years.) The 700-plus member police officers union is refusing even to talk about the issue. Other holdouts in the county are jail guards and Metro bus drivers, though those two unions are in negotiations with the county.

Some context is helpful. The agreement was signed under County Executive Ron Sims, whose pandering to the unions had reached ridiculous heights before he departed to the Obama administration. Credit at least Larry Phillips, a labor Democrat who was the only councilmember to vote against what he termed an "outrageous" contract. Others went along because they feared arbitration, which might have granted even higher salaries. (Why is arbitration such a tilted process?)

The other reason, according to Times' reporter Keith Ervin: "Part of what the Guild traded for higher wages was agreeing to new civilian oversight of discipline of sheriff's deputies." And here we see the paradoxical nexus between the push for more civilian oversight, a perennial cause in Seattle and the area, and rewarding officers with more pay and more hires.

That's exactly what happened in the last round of the fight over civilian oversight in Seattle. Slight gains in oversight were traded for huge promises in new pay. Little wonder that Mayor Greg Nickels was furious when City Councilmember Nick Licata escalated the issue, pushed for new oversight measures, and took away the negotiating leverage of the mayor's office. And presumably, if the pay boosts are rolled back, the civilian oversight measures would also be put back on the table, placing the politicians in a squeeze play.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors