Bargaining in Blue: Seattle aims to enact new CBA three years after expiration date

Bargaining in Blue, a monthly newsletter from Ballotpedia, provides news and information on police collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), including the latest news, policy debates, and insights from Ballotpedia’s analysis of police CBAs in all 50 states and the top 100 cities by population. 

In this month’s edition of Bargaining in Blue, we examine CBA expiration dates and the ability to extend expired agreements through a negotiation process. We review efforts in Seattle, Washington, to adopt a new CBA three years after the current agreement’s expiration date; related scholarly arguments; and insights on the topic from Ballotpedia’s analysis of police CBAs in all 50 states and the top 100 cities by population. 

In this edition: 

  • On the beat: Seattle aims to enact new CBA three years after expiration date
  • Around the table: Related arguments from the negotiating table, scholars, and the media on the extended use of expired police CBAs
  • Insights: A closer look at CBA expiration dates and key takeaways from Ballotpedia’s analysis

On the beat

Seattle aims to enact new CBA three years after expiration date

The Seattle City Council in Washington in January 2024 announced its intent to vote on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) this year. The SPOG’s current CBA expired in 2020. 

Police CBAs that have reached an expiration date are still viewed as being in effect until a new agreement has been negotiated. CBAs establish a set of legal standards for the parties involved, which often cannot be deviated from without an agreed-upon change in contract. When a CBA expires, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), “almost all the terms of the expired contract continue while the parties bargain.”

The expired Seattle CBA has frustrated reform efforts that Judge James Robart deemed necessary to end a 2012 consent decree between the federal government and the Seattle Police Department. Robart, who is overseeing the consent decree, ended most federal oversight of the police department in September 2023 with the exception of certain officer accountability and crowd control policies, including tactics and use of force. Robart argued in 2023 that federal oversight is unlikely to end until a new CBA addresses certain accountability reforms, according to The Seattle Times

Negotiations for the CBA are expected to consider provisions related to police officer accountability for misconduct and future funding for the police department. A sustainability assessment published by the consent decree’s court monitor stated that the city’s priorities for the new CBA should address timelines for disciplinary investigations, the subpoena authority of the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of the Inspector General, the standard of review for disciplinary appeals, and transparency in the grievance arbitration process. 

A spokesperson for Mayor Bruce Harrell argued that Seattle cannot unilaterally make the recommended changes included in the sustainability assessment and highlighted the need for compromises during CBA negotiations, according to The Stranger

Want to go deeper?

Around the table

Arguments about the extended use of expired police CBAs

Political commentator Amy Sundberg wrote in a 2024 article in The Urbanist about the anticipated new Seattle, Washington, police CBA. Sundberg highlighted the effect of the extended use of the expired CBA on the implementation of certain accountability reforms:

The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) collective bargaining agreement has languished for three full years since its expiration at the end of 2020. That expired contract has held up accountability reforms that Judge Robart, the federal judge overseeing the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department’s consent decree, has said are necessary before Justice Department oversight can officially end. It has delayed efforts to begin a new civilian emergency first response program like ones currently operating in many peer cities. And it has stood firm against efforts to ‘reimagine public safety’ to be more equitable and more responsive to root causes.

Some government officials and police department representatives rely on the ability to continue using expired police CBAs to allow for more time to negotiate new agreements. For example, journalist Nicolas Dubina published a 2024 article for WETM TV 18 examining ongoing contract negotiations in Elmira, New York. Dubina included a statement from Elmira Police Benevolent Association President Brooks Shaw on the ability to continue negotiations without an interruption in police services: 

The Elmira Police PBA cannot comment on the ongoing contract negotiations with the City of Elmira as they are confidential. The citizens of the City of Elmira can expect to have continued professional police services from the members of the Elmira Police Department in the event an agreement is not reached by the end of the year.


Seattle CBA’s expiration date 

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the city of Seattle, Washington, on November 14, 2018. The CBA was set to remain in effect through December 31, 2020.

Article 21 of the CBA between the city of Seattle and the SPOG states the following:

Except as expressly provided herein, this Agreement shall become effective upon signing by both parties, and shall remain in effect through December 31, 2020. Written notice of intent to amend or terminate this Agreement must be served by the requesting party upon the other party at least five (5) months prior to the submission of the City Budget in the calendar year 2020 (as stipulated in R.C.W. 41.56.440).

The CBA remains in effect until a new agreement is reached between the city and the police union.

Key takeaways on CBA expiration dates

Ballotpedia’s analysis of police CBAs in all 50 states and the top 100 cities by population featured the following information about CBA expiration dates, as of December 2023:

  • There are 12 state CBAs and 23 city CBAs that remain in effect after the agreement’s expiration date
  • There are five state CBAs and 24 city CBAs that are set to expire in 2024
  • There are eight state CBAs and 25 city CBAs that are set to expire in 2025
  • There is one state CBA and seven city CBAs that are set to expire in 2026
  • There are 22 states and 21 cities that do not have police CBAs
  • There are two states and one city in which the request for information on police CBAs was denied or information could not be verified

Want to go deeper?