With almost half the Los Angeles police officers scheduled for midnight-to-8 a.m. duty participating in a "blue flu" job action, city officials fought back Tuesday, winning a court order barring officers from continuing the controversial effort to win a pay raise.
Dave Zeigler, president of the Police Protective League, said the union's estimated 7,000 members will abide by Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien's temporary restraining order and continue to work pending a Dec. 16 hearing, at which the order could be made permanent.
"It's enough to stop what's going on right now," Deputy City Atty. Arthur Walsh said. "It's not enough to stop future actions."
Participation was spotty in the sickout that began at 11 p.m. Monday--when the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift was scheduled to report for duty. High percentages of officers called in sick in some divisions--about two-thirds stayed out in the Devonshire and Foothill divisions--but virtually all showed up for work in others. The Van Nuys Division had 100% of its officers show up.
Anticipating the absences, the department had called a modified tactical alert at 9 p.m. Monday that kept all officers from the night shift on duty until they could be replaced with whatever officers reported for the early morning watch. The job action called for the day shift to report to work as usual at 7 a.m.
"There was no impact on public safety," Police Cmdr. David Gascon said. "We were in a position, based on planning, to deal with this."
In the Rampart Division, one of the city's busiest police areas, nearly every member of the Tuesday morning watch called in sick, according to officers there. Participation in the blue flu was also said to be high in the 77th Street Division, an overcrowded station in South-Central Los Angeles where officers have long grumbled about working conditions.
The threat of retaliation hung heavy over the entire job action. "You know the old saying," one police officer said. "The department won't forget. And you know they won't forgive either."
Gascon said that out of 347 officers scheduled to report for duty for Tuesday's morning shift, 158 called in sick, although some of those were on pre-existing sick time. Normally, 20 to 40 officers call in sick on each shift.
"No one is anti-union here," said Sgt. John Herkowitz of the 100% turnout at Van Nuys. "Each one of those individuals looked within themselves and made an adult decision about what they felt was right. Every one of them wants a contract and every one of them wants a raise," he said. But, "They swore an oath to do the service and here they are."
Some Valley residents voiced sympathy for the officers. "I kind of don't blame them, but I'm upset that it puts the city in peril," said Linda Tandy Jackson of the Bull Creek Pocket Patrol, a citizens' patrol in Van Nuys.
Don Schultz, president of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn., said that "frankly, I think the police are justified."
"I think we've been let down by our public officials. . . . Funds are being found for less important issues than public safety. . . . The LAPD and the Fire Department are two public safety entities, and I think they should be taken care of by the city as priorities over and above everything else," Schultz said.
Gascon said the department will decide what to do about absences "on a case-by-case basis."
"The improper use of sick time is fraudulent," Gascon said. "We don't feel this is an appropriate way to make a point."
The absence of almost half the officers Tuesday morning sent "a strong message to the city," said Hank Hernandez, the Police Protective League's general counsel. "Certainly, the city has noticed."
The sickout was called by the police union in an effort to get some movement from city leaders on the league's demands for a 9% raise over four years. The city, facing a projected 1993-94 budget deficit of $200 million, says it can't afford that.
Beginning LAPD officers make $33,157 a year--more than officers in several of the nation's largest police departments. However, the pay level of new LAPD officers has slipped to eighth among the 10 largest departments in California.
The decision to call in sick was a tough one, said many officers.
Patrol Officer Al Ruvalcaba, who works at the Wilshire Division, where about half of the 20 officers on the morning watch failed to show up, said Tuesday was the first sick day he had taken in 24 years.
"I did this after a lot of soul-searching," he said. "I had to make a statement. I've always gone to work sick. But this time, I felt there was no other choice."
In the LAPD's South and Central bureaus, officers reacted with mixed emotions to the job action. Torn between professional commitment and feelings of anger at the City Council, patrol officers and detectives at some of the city's busiest precincts grudgingly reported for duty Tuesday morning.
"It should never have gotten to this point," said a dejected Detective Oscar Lamarque, 40, who arrived at the busy South Bureau homicide detail at 6:30 a.m to go jogging before beginning his normal 14-hour workday.
"This whole pay raise controversy has caused a great morale problem," the 10-year LAPD veteran said. "We have always been there for the city. But now that we want a raise, the city doesn't seem to be there for us. It's really hurt us emotionally."
Lamarque said the controversy is especially painful, coming as it does on the heels of the emotionally draining trials of the officers in the Rodney G. King beating and the men involved in assaults on Reginald O. Denny.
"We've constantly gone through hell," he said, "and we're tired of it."
Like Lamarque, all the other detectives showed up at the detail's office at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, where it was business as usual Tuesday morning. With 388 homicides in the South Bureau area of the city so far this year, the 60 detectives there said they could not afford to let up on their investigative efforts.
At the Newton station, which covers some of the Downtown area and parts of South-Central Los Angeles, Officer Larry Johnson said he thought the union should have bargained more before calling for the sickout.
"I feel that the league should not have put us in this predicament," he said. "I definitely support the union strongly, but I don't think we exhausted all other avenues. We should have bargained more."
Like other officers, Johnson placed much of the blame on the City Council, which recently approved a 9% raise over three years for Department of Water and Power workers. "No raises for the Police Department is definitely an insult and a slap in our faces," he said.
At the Hollenbeck Division, which covers El Sereno and Boyle Heights, only two of 10 officers on the morning shift showed up for work, said Sgt. Jose Perez, the day-side watch commander.
Even if the temporary restraining order had not been issued, Perez said, he would have shown up for work this morning.
"It's a personal conviction that comes with the job," he said. "I've only used four sick days in 10 years. Most of us officers come in because this is our career and we believe in doing something right."
Officers at the Southeast Division said all but one of the 14 morning shift officers called in sick. At the 77th Street Division, a desk officer said only four officers showed up--one of them a rookie on probation. "He had to show up or he'd be fired," the officer said.
On the other hand, Southwest station desk officers said all the morning patrol shift there reported for work.
At a news conference outside the LAPD's Parker Center headquarters Tuesday afternoon, Chief Willie L. Williams thanked the officers who had reported to work Tuesday, calling the union's job action a poorly conceived, illegal activity that will cost the taxpayers about $200,000 in overtime and sick pay.
But Williams, noting that he has served for more than 30 years as a police officer, said he had "significant sympathy" with those angered by having to work for months without a contract.
"Any time you go nearly two years without a contract . . . (while) we have facilities that are falling down and we don't have the capital programs to rebuild that infrastructure, that's going to absolutely make an impact on morale," he said.
"I, as chief, am committed 110% to try to resolve this contract," the chief added. "We have lobbied with members of the council, with the mayor (and) with business people in this city to see that our men and women get the raise they deserve. And I've said publicly before that in my mind that raise starts at the 9% level."
Times staff writers Mathis Chazanov, Abigail Goldman, Paul Feldman, John Mitchell, Jim Newton and Lisa Richardson contributed to this report.