The newly elected District of Columbia police union moved yesterday to heal wounds among police after a bitter, racially tinged election campaign and also announced plans for a new ratification vote on the recently negotiated $30 million police contract.
After its convincing victory Tuesday, the Fraternal Order of Police FOP said it plans new elections of union officers and a referendum early next year on the contract already signed by the city and the now-defeated union, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers IBPO .
Meanwhile, the FOP, which decisively won the election, 1,555 to 1,084, composed a letter to D.C. police to "reassure everybody that we are in this business to help everybody . . . black officers and white officers," said FOP cochairman Gary Hankins. During the campaign, the IBPO had accused the FOP of being a white racist organization.
Black officers interviewed yesterday at three of the city's seven police districts had generally supported IBPO. But the support appeared lukewarm and many were not particularly upset by the FOP's election because they felt that the claims of racism might have been exaggerated. The 3,300-member D.C. police bargaining unit is estimated to be about 47 percent black.
Mayor Marion Barry, who enjoyed a close relationship with the defeated IBPO but had been criticized by the FOP, took a conciliatory approach yesterday to the election winner. He said he might agree to renegotiate the contract if the FOP requests it, but he announced no plans for the city to initiate new talks.
"Obviously, the city gave things up to the IBPO negotiated contract that, if it had its druthers, it wouldn't have," the mayor said at his monthly press conference. "It may be that the FOP may come forward with ideas we like . . . But with labor unions, once you give them something, you won't get it back unless you pay for it."
FOP officials said police appear satisfied with the negotiated pay raises of more than 20 percent over the next three years, but have criticized other provisions dealing with disciplinary procedures, medical benefits and working conditions. The new police contract, approved just last week by the City Council, initially drew strong criticisms from police because IBPO negotiated a contract with bonuses, but no raises in base pay scales. Barry then agreed to renegotiate with the IBPO, a decision that angered some council members and later drew more criticism when the mayor's initial announcement of a $20.7 million price tag turned out to total more than $30 million.
Barry said he looked forward to meetings with the FOP and denied that he had criticized the union during the campaign. IBPO campaign literature had included purported Barry statements critical of the FOP, which Barry said were falsely attributed to him.
The IBPO, which had represented police for seven years and survived four previous election challenges, had portrayed the FOP throughout the bitter six-month union campaign as being white-dominated and unresponsive to the needs of black officers. Thattactic apparently met with only limited success.
"IBPO dragged things through the mud more than they should have," said Sgt. Dennis Sibert, a 13-year veteran, who said he voted for the IBPO despite his resentment about IBPO's failure to conduct votes on past union contracts and other issues.
Sibert said he and other blacks have felt discomfort at the FOP club at 625 Pennsylvania Ave. NW because the crowd is predominantly white. But Sibert said he will join and become active in FOP, which he said may turn out to be "a better, stronger union."
R.D. Washington, a 12-year police veteran, said he and other black officers he knew had voted for the FOP despite the allegations of racism because "we knew we were getting screwed by IBPO." Washington said the atmosphere of the FOP's bar is irrelevant "when you compare it to things like money and working conditions."
Ronald Hampton, president of the Black Police Association, which claims about 200 members among D.C. police, said he views FOP's victory as a setback for affirmative action because the FOP traditionally has given little attention to blacks. "But a lot of black officers didn't agree with me," he added.
Hankins said the new union will set a more aggressive tone in dealing with the city, both on money and on "other issues that the IBPO ignored," such as the quality and quantity of police equipment.
"IBPO has been too silent and has allowed the police department to get a dwindling share of resources," Hankins said. "We've got about 100 officers walking downtown streets on Christmas details, without radios . . . . We literally have cases where investigators can't leave the office because cars are not available."
Barry's top labor negotiator, Donald Weinberg, said he views some of FOP's tough statements as "election bravado" and said the city's bargaining stance would be unchanged. Hankins, however, stressed that the FOP has already been sending officials to various labor seminars for the past two years and that when the union goes to the bargaining table, it will have better research and knowledge of city finances than IBPO had.
IBPO president Larry Simons said he plans to continue full-time union work and will organize a new representation challenge to the FOP next year. He predicted the FOP "will fall flat on its face."