The Fraternal Order of Police has been quietly negotiating a new contract for Prince George's 825 policemen since October, 1979. Their last contract expired in July, 1980, but, according to union president Laney Hester, FOP has seen no need to rush to get what they want.
"We just felt we should give the county time to operate," said the politically skillful Hester.
Hester and the county's other uniformed employes, primarily firefighters, have used the time to do some operating for themselves. Last November they pushed referendum Question N, a sleeper of charater amendment at the very bottom of the ballot, requiring binding arbitration on a new contract if no agreement is reached with the county by March 1 of the year in which the old contract expires.
They spent $10,000 and covered every polling precinct, wearing county police baseball caps and handing out campaign stickers. To the chagrin of County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, who took full-page newspaper ads against the amendment, it passed by more than 2 to 1.
On June 14, the County Council passed the enabling legislation for the measure, retroactive to apply to the current police negotiations. Hogan is required to submit the names of three arbitrators by Friday.
The county firemen, whose contract also expired last July 1, have been negotiating a new one since January.
On July 15, deciding that it was time to get moving, Hester sent Hogan a telegram:
"Twenty months of negotiations have failed to produce an acceptable police contact. Our membership therefore requests that in accordance with the law, you immediately act to submit the unresolved issues to binding arbitration, as per the voter mandate."
The issue, according to Hester, is simply money. He wants an 8.5 percent raise for the year that ended June 1 and a cost-of-living increase equal to the consumer price index measure of inflation for this contract year. In what Hogan aide Lawrence Hogan Jr. called a public relations measure, Hester two weeks ago put to a membership vote the county's most recent offer, a 6 percent raise. It was overwhelmingly rejected.
"Why they brought it up to the membership is still a mystery to us," said Eugene T. Lauer, county assistant chief administrative officer. "It was not our final offer."
Lauer said there were additional benefits offered in the county's most recent position but Hester did not mention them. He said that to reveal those benefits would violate "negotiating integrity."
Lauer also said the police must recognize that the county's ability to pay its employes is limited by TRIM and the overall policy of fiscal austerity reflected in last year's (5 percent) and this year's (7 percent) raises for non-union county workers.
"You have to take into account what Prince George's can afford," said Lauer.
Hester said that the present, $14,727 starting salary for police, set two years ago, is the lowest in the region. He said it is the job, not the county, for which the policeman must be compensated.
"There's no other job in the county where you face instant, violent death because of the uniform," said Hester who, as union president, has not worn a uniform in the past three years.
Lauer and Hogan both emphasized that negotiations between the county and the cops are continuing, and noted that the last agreement, negotiated under former executive Winfield Kelly, was more than 18 months in the making.