Negotiators for Prince George's County and its police department's union informally resumed talks yesterday and it appeared possible that a contract agreement could be reached as early as tomorrow, ending a week-long police job action that has reduced greatly the number of traffic and parking tickets issued.
The resumption of talks by telephone coincided with the County Council's decision against immediately considering the police union's request to send the contract negotiations, to binding arbitration. The council said it would not act until it received a formal request to do so from the county's Public Employees Relations Board.
The board sent a letter to Fraternal Order of Police union President Laney Hester and county personnel director Donald Weinberg on Friday recommending binding arbitration.
"We've received a copy of that but have yet been formally asked to consider the binding arbitration question," Council Chairman Francis W. White said yesterday. "Until the issue is clear before us, we can't take action."
It appeared likely late yesterday that a settlement would be reached before the issue was put to the council.
Although county police have reduced the number of traffic and parking tickets they have written since last Friday, they have been responding to other calls in normal fashion.
"I think now that things have cooled down and everyone's had some time to think things over we should be able to negotiate a settlement," said John Lally, chief aide for County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., who has played an active role in the negotiations.
Union president Hester met with his board yesterday afternoon to decide what action to take after the council's refusal to consider the binding arbitration question during its legislative session yesterday.
"I'm content to wait this out and just keep on what we've been doing," Hester said. "I know this was a hard decision for the council to make and I guess they probably don't want to deal with the question unless they absolutely have to."
Hester said his group will resume picketing the County Adminstration Building this morning. Union vice president Tom Lennon said there was talk among the men of escalating the job action but, "for now we're in a holding pattern . . . until the council considers our binding arbitration request."
Talks stopped last Thursday with the two parties wrangling over salary raises for future county police officers. The county had agreed to allow officers who now retire after 25 years with a 50 percent pension, to retire after 20 years with a 40 percent pension.
In return, the county asked that the police limit pay raises for future officers who do not win promotion to 11 percent. Hester would not go lower than 20 percent and it was there that talks broke down.
Hester said yesterday that he had not moved off the 20 percent figure "yet." But he added, "We're flexible."
Personnel director Weinberg said he thought the possibility of a settlement before the weekend was "pretty good. We still have some more talking to do but we are talking, he said.
"Impasses happen in collective bargaining, Weinberg said. "I accept that. But I think going to binding arbitration would be counter-productive. It would be an admission that collective bargaining doesn't work."
Both sides say they are "flexible," a term much different from the language used last week. Yesterday Hester would not say that a compromise was in sight but did say, "When this is all over both sides will have lost some things. In this kind of bargaining there's no winner and no loser."