To the surprise and frustration of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and other city leaders, the police union announced Friday that its members had overwhelmingly rejected the city’s contract offer.
“Seventy-five percent of the voting membership declared with their votes that they are frustrated, unappreciated, disrespected, taken for granted, used, overworked, underpaid, angry, sold out by politicians and ignored by the very public it protects,” union President Danny Staggs said in an appearance before the council.
The Police Protective League immediately urged its 7,000 members to refuse to work overtime to protest the stalled negotiations and strike at the core of Riordan’s police expansion effort.
The tactic could interfere with security during the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament because much of that Police Department staffing will come from overtime.
In addition, it would undermine one of the tenets of Riordan’s plan for expanding the LAPD, which was included in the city budget approved Wednesday. That spending plan creates a pool of overtime money that would boost the force by the equivalent of 431 officers in the coming year.
The boycott of voluntary overtime was just one of many protest strategies officers intended to employ to wrest more money from city leaders. Members of the Police Protective League also said they were considering a mass sickout that would send World Cup preparations into turmoil.
In interviews, Riordan and other leaders who thought they had brokered an end to the two-year dispute expressed disappointment with the lopsided vote--3,081 to 781. They said they think the contract presented to union members is the best they could come up with considering the city’s financial constraints.
Council members were clearly surprised by the rejection of the proposal, and several said that a job action would only hurt the union’s case. City officials maintain that a union-organized labor protest would violate a court order, and any unauthorized demonstrations that develop would be quickly fought in court.
“We are not going to be threatened into anything,” Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said. “I think most of them know that. What we had here is a venting of their anger.”
Police Chief Willie L. Williams said he remained hopeful that the matter will be settled before tens of thousands of visitors descend on the area next month.
“We’re going to wait a week for everyone to calm down, for cooler heads to prevail,” Williams said in an interview. “I’m not going to take any drastic steps now. I’m sure when we get to the World Cup we’ll have the staffing we need.”
Earlier in the day, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block issued a tactical alert calling on all agencies in Los Angeles and Orange counties to be ready for emergency duty during the World Cup, which will be held from June 4 to July 17. Nine soccer matches are to be played at the Rose Bowl, including the championship game.
“International soccer fans sometimes tend to be emotionally charged, prone to confrontational activities and difficult to manage,” according to the sheriff’s alert. “These activities are not necessarily limited to the soccer stadium and may spontaneously occur wherever fans congregate.”
The sheriff asked that each department be ready to provide half of its on-duty uniformed officers for World Cup duty if needed. Officials said the alert was unrelated to the Police Protective League threats to disrupt World Cup staffing.
Talk of an LAPD sickout during the World Cup surfaced only in recent days as anger over the contract offer intensified. That anger culminated in Thursday’s resounding defeat of the pact. Officer Joseph Gryder, a union delegate, told the council in a booming voice that officers were fed up with the city leadership: “You make like you want to go to battle. Let’s get it on!”
Some took exception to the union’s fierce rhetoric, saying officers appeared to be trying to intimidate them for a raise.
“It really sounded like they were threatening us,” Councilman Mike Hernandez said. “I don’t think that’s going to solve anything.”
Each side on Friday waited for the other to make the next move.
City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie said the union was responsible for presenting a counteroffer because it voted down the city’s offer. But union leaders said they were waiting for the city to find enough money to give police officers a significant raise.
The $40-million offer voted down Thursday would have given the officers a 3% cost-of-living increase July 1 and 3% on Sept. 1, 1995, but no retroactive pay for the nearly two years since the last contract expired. It also contains some controversial changes in benefits and work rules.
The union has long sought a deal that is comparable to the 9% over four years given to Department of Water and Power workers after last fall’s strike. To give police a comparable deal would cost an additional $20 million, Yaroslavsky said.
Union leaders said they will hash out their strategy in a special meeting Sunday. They held out the possibility of picketing council members’ houses, distributing a videotape to tourists that shows riot footage, or engaging in a job slowdown in which officers do everything strictly by the book.
During a brief sickout in November, a Superior Court judge forbade the union and its leaders to participate in such job actions. Union leaders said they intend to abide by the order but they add that they cannot stop officers from organizing an unauthorized job action.
“The rank and file is going to go off, and not at our direction,” union negotiator Gary Fullerton said. “If these guys go on their own, and I can see it coming, it won’t just be a rolling sickout--and you’ll have to call out the sheriff’s (deputies) and the National Guard.”