District of Columbia police officers voted overwhelmingly yesterday to oust their incumbent union in a bitter election campaign marked by allegations of racism and last-minute "dirty tricks."
In a heavy turnout, the officers voted, 1,555 to 1,084, to make the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) bargaining agent for the city's officers, replacing the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO), which had been the police union representative since 1974.
More than 2,800 officers cast ballots from among 3,300 with the rank of sergeant or below who were eligible. About 160 ballots were challenged for various reasons and 53 officers voted for "no union."
"We feel thrilled," said FOP cochairman Gary Hankins as he left the downtown office of the American Arbitration Association, which supervised the election. "And what pleases us most is that we ran a clean campaign. IBPO used everything from racism to mudslinging, but the police officers weren't fooled."
IBPO president Larry Simons angrily brushed past Hankins on his way out of the association offices immediately after the vote count, and said he would challenge the result. But Simons offered no indication of what grounds could be used for a challenge.
The IBPO had survived four previous election challenges since 1974 and had spent, by the FOP's estimate, $70,000 to win yesterday -- including free meals all day for the entire police force, officials said. The union, which claims 50 percent black membership that mirrors the department's racial makeup, had attempted to portray the FOP as a racist group. IBPO literature portrayed FOP as an inexperienced, white-dominated organization whose main activity was running the FOP club, a "sleazy bar" at 625 Pennsylvania Ave. that did not welcome blacks.
But the FOP, which vehemently disputes that portrayal and claims about 25 percent black membership, capitalized on the deep dissatisfaction that many officers felt about IBPO because the union, in its seven-year tenure, had seen D.C. police salaries and benefits slip behind those of some neighboring departments.
About 1,000 officers quit the IBPO last summer when the union announced a new contract that gave police $1,000 bonuses but no increase in base pay until the third year of a three-year pact. That contract was renegotiated and approved by the City Council last week, providing more than 20 percent raises over three years.
Hankins repeated last night his campaign promise that the FOP's election will mean "tougher bargaining" with the city.
Hankins said however that FOP's "first task" will be to heal rifts between white and black officers, a problem that he charged the IBPO created through racially tinged campaign propaganda.
The FOP official also said union dues will not be compulsory for all bargaining unit members, as they are under IBPO. Under a newly negotiated "agency shop" clause in its contract, IBPO was collecting dues of at least $5.19 every two weeks from each officer, for a yearly total of $1.3 million.
Yesterday, IBPO rented banquet rooms at six Holiday Inns and two restaurants, providing free breakfast, lunch and dinner. The FOP labeled the freebies "a cheap attempt" to buy votes. But Simons said the free meals were a tradition.
The FOP also alleged that the IBPO, in campaign literature issued just before yesterday's vote, fabricated statements and attributed them to Mayor Marion Barry and his chief labor negotiator, Donald Weinberg. Both Weinberg and a Barry spokesman said yesterday that they did not make the statements published in IBPO's "Police Challenger" newsletter.
The statements attributed to the two officials declared that if IBPO lost to FOP, the city would exercise its right to cancel the newly approved police contract.
Barry spokeswoman Annette Samuels said that "the mayor's position remains one of neutrality."
Simons said the statements were accurate, but would not say when or where they were made.
Weinberg said after the vote count that both the union and the city have the right to reopen contract talks because the newly approved contract was signed with a now-ousted union. FOP lawyers have claimed the city could not reopen the contract.
However, contrary to reports carried in the "Police Challenger," Weinberg said he, the mayor and City Administrator Elijah Rogers have not decided whether the city would seek to renegotiate the contract.