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Editorial: Caustic St. Louis union leader puts police in a weaker negotiating position

Editorial: Caustic St. Louis union leader puts police in a weaker negotiating position

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Supporters rally for union leader Jeff Roorda's removal

Supporters of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner rally for the removal of St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda on Feb. 17, 2020, in front of the union's office at 3710 Hampton.

Photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

Police union business manager Jeff Roorda appears to have painted himself into a corner, where he deserves to sit like an ornery schoolboy and think about all the obnoxious things he’s said and posted online in recent years to undermine the negotiating position of his St. Louis Police Officers Association. The union stalled and maneuvered during the final weeks of Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration, miscalculating that it could somehow work out a better deal for its members. With no new contract in hand, Roorda now must deal with the well-deserved wrath of Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones.

Jones has vowed — with total justification — never to sit at the table with Roorda. He labeled Jones a “cop-hater,” “race-baiter” and the “laziest legislator-of-all-time” after she dared to criticize the union. When she ran for mayor in 2017 and again this year, she refused to seek the union’s endorsement. Why bother with Roorda at the helm?

Krewson in 2017 called on Roorda to be fired for an explosive series of remarks aimed at Jones and then-President Barack Obama. He blamed Obama for a sniper rampage in July 2016 in which five Dallas police officers were killed.

Against that backdrop, Roorda led his union team in negotiations with city officials as the union’s contract reached its expiration date nearly 10 months ago. But by early April, it was clear the two sides had reached an impasse. City officials confirmed on Tuesday that the collective bargaining agreement is no longer in force, although the union’s attorney says otherwise.

The Police Officers Association isn’t the only police representation in town. The Ethical Society of Police, which represents Black officers, could be positioned to step in. Jones just named the society’s former president, retired Sgt. Heather Taylor, to be senior adviser to Daniel Isom, the former police chief named as interim public safety director. Both are Black, and neither has offered kind words in the past for Roorda.

The city has been pursuing a two-track negotiating process: one for police pay and benefits, and the other focusing on policing policy. It’s the latter issue where the Jones administration is most likely to clash with Roorda, who has long objected to meaningful reforms to make officers more accountable to the public. Jones also has supported redirecting portions of the police budget toward social services as one answer to the city’s crime problem and rise in police-involved shootings.

The union now proceeds from a significantly weakened negotiating position, with Jones administration negotiators highly unlikely to be sympathetic to any proposal that bears Roorda’s imprint. Unless the union wants to risk emerging in a far worse position than it faced going into the negotiations, members should seriously consider whether this is the time to show Roorda to the exit door. A swift boot in the backside would help ensure he gets the message.

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