D.C. Police Officer Harry Hanbury was told by his union steward last summer that he would be getting at least a 20 percent pay raise thanks to a new contract negotiated by his union, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO).
But that night, when Hanbury punched the numbers into his personal home computer, he said, he decided someone was lying.
"When I saw on my screen that it totaled 5.45 percent a year and determined that it would also undermine my retirement, that's when I decided to quit the IBPO," Hanbury said, "It was plain as could be that there'd been some dishonesty. A cop knows when there's something fishy."
Two years ago, D.C. Police Officer James F. Young Jr., who is black, walked into the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lodge at 625 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, and asked for a drink and something to eat.
"I was treated like I had a disease," Young said, "Blacks don't get invited there." He said he decided then that blacks were not welcome in a union like FOP.
The bitterness of Hanbury and Young, both veteran D.C. police officers with more than 10 years on the force, is reflective of deep divisions among many of the 3,300 District of Columbia police officers who will vote Tuesday on whether to continue the seven-year rule of IBPO or switch to the rival FOP.
The six-month union election campaign, police say, has been the most expensive, most divisive and also the most vicious since police began union organizing here nearly a decade ago. The campaign has seen roughly 1,000 officers quit the IBPO, been marred by accusations of racism, and left many D.C. officers confused and angry.
"This campaign hasn't deteriorated into the gutter. It started there," said Lou Cannon, FOP's cochairman.
"This is a union election, but it's become more than a union election," said IBPO president Larry Simons, "They have kicked the s--- out of us and we are kicking back."
Tuesday's vote could have a heavy impact on D.C. taxpayers because the outcome may have strong influence on the future tone of the city's labor relations, not only with police, but with the dozens of other city employe unions that often take their cues from the police union.
At nine precinct polling places supervised by the American Arbitration Association, police officers, detectives and sergeants will cast ballots to decide which union will have bargaining power -- and the right to collect more than $1.3 million a year in union dues.
IBPO Local 442 grew in strength during the police department's big growth years of the 1970s and today claims roughly 50 percent black membership, mirroring the department's racial makeup. FOP Lodge 1-F, on the other hand, has its roots as a predominantly white social organization that has turned to union organizing, all the while attracting more officers and more blacks.
A Virginia consulting firm, Krause & Associates, has been hired by IBPO to assist it in, among other things, turning out the union's slick, color-illustrated Police Challenger every few days. Every issue has contained strongly worded broadsides that defend IBPO's track record or hammer away at FOP. It has suggested or charged that FOP is a white-dominated "secret society"; that its leadership is inexperienced and "just plain stupid," and that its main activity is running a "sleazy bar" that essentially excludes blacks.
FOP, in a far more financially modest campaign, has painted a picture of IBPO as a top-heavy, financially unaccountable, and antidemocratic "sellout" union that has allowed D.C. police salaries to fall far behind inflation, while neighboring departments have surpassed the city's in terms of pay, retirement terms and other working conditions.
FOP estimates the incumbent union may have spent more than $70,000, compared with its own expenditures of about $400. While IBPO chief Simons concedes that "we have spent too much" on the campaign, he won't disclose amounts. Both unions maintain telephone "hot lines" that carry taped campaign rhetoric to hundreds of callers daily, and both are working the sidewalks and streets outside police precincts, button-holing officers and handing out leaflets.
Currently, both unions claim more than 1,000 members, say they have gained strength in recent weeks, and are predicting victory. Yet there is strong evidence of deep dissatisfaction.
Between 800 and 1,200 IBPO members quit the union after Simons announced last June the terms of the first new contract since IBPO took over in 1974. It called for $1,000 bonuses but no change in base pay for two years. Simons concedes his members "practically killed me" but says his union redeemed itself in the renegotiated contract approved by the D.C. City Council last week, which provides a more than 20 percent increase in base pay over its three-year life.
Yet, confusion has abounded over the new police contract. Both unions' "hot lines" and literature offer directly contradictory statements while labeling the other's messages lies. IBPO, for instance, has told police that the new pay raises will be canceled if the union loses, a claim that FOP denies.
The renegotation of the police contract killed the one issue that could have hurt IBPO, according to Simons. But FOP's cochairman, Gary Hankins, said that the now-scrapped bonus contract dramatized for many D.C. officers how poorly IBPO represents them. FOP campaign literature points out that Prince George's County police have had higher pay and better retirement and other benefits.
FOP portrays IBPO as being so cozy with Mayor Marion Barry that the union has given him political support and "sell-out" contracts in exchange for cushy job assignments for union officials and a newly negotiated "agency shop" clause that will guarantee IBPO at least $5.19 in dues from each officer's pay every two weeks.
Because of Barry's close ties with Simons, "the city has had it easy" at the bargaining table, said Hankins, whose main pledge is tougher negotiating. Simons, however, not only openly acknowledges his close ties to the mayor but portrays them as assets for the union.
"Who would you rather have representing you ? Somebody who is in a warm bed with the mayor, or somebody who is outside in the cold?" he asks.
FOP also has made an issue of IBPO's failure to detail the local's spending. FOP published estimates that IBPO spends more than $300,000 yearly on lawyers, $57,000 on lobbying, and more than $52,000 for unspecified "expenses."
"I would not even call it a union," FOP's Hankins said of IBPO. "I would call it an organization dedicated to its own preservation, while increasing its own income and reducing services to members."
IBPO's Simons, who would not disclose his union local salary or discuss the local's spending, said FOP is misleading police. He said the local doesn't detail spending because it sends all its dues money to IBPO's Boston headquarters, which in turn discloses all necessary financial data and also provides the local with services, such as legal help and lobbying assistance.
Race has become a campaign issue in the roughly 50 percent black department primarily through IBPO's campaign literature. IBPO's two main points are that FOP's bar, a members-only club near the Capitol that is painted police blue, does not welcome blacks, and that the FOP membership application asks officers to list their race.
Hankins, who claims about 25 percent black membership in the FOP local, said the alleged discomfort some black officers feel at the FOP club is an unfortunate remnant of an earlier period when the department was virtually all white. The membership form, he said, is patterned after the police department's.
"Racism is a problem in this campaign. We didn't have this problem until now," Hankins said. "The most tragic thing here is that IBPO has tried to use race to save their own necks."
But Ron Hampton, president of the Afro-American Police Association, which claims 200 members among D.C. police, labels FOP "a racist organization." He and other younger black officers believe FOP primarily represents white middle-management, he said, which has traditionally resisted affirmative action.
Hankins said a vote for FOP will mean stronger, tougher unionism, while Hampton contended it will mean "another form of Reaganism."