Because of a bitter eight-month impasse between the District government and its 3,300-member police union, the new police contract will be written by a three-member panel of arbitrators, the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board ruled yesterday.
The board's action marks the first time the city government has been forced to submit a labor contract to binding arbitration, an option that city officials said they opposed because arbitrators would be in the position of making significant decisions about pay, benefits and working conditions.
The city has reached agreements with at least seven other unions representing more than 15,000 employes, but has been stalemated over wages, negotiating ground rules, and bitter personality conflicts in its talks with the Fraternal Order of Police, whose contract expired Sept. 30.
"We certainly wanted to settle this at the bargaining table, like we have with every other union," Donald H. Weinberg, the city's chief labor negotiator, said yesterday, "but the police have been headed this way from the very beginning and I don't think they had a strong intention of settling at the table."
Gary Hankins, president of the FOP's labor committee, yesterday blamed Weinberg for the impasse. "We are pleased with the PERB's order because the city, in our view, has been stalling us. The reason they have stalled us is our refusal to go along with Mr. Weinberg. His view is 'We tell you. You say yes.' . . . But we did not go along."
Weinberg said the FOP, which is conducting its first negotiations in 3 1/2 years of representing D.C. police, was "very inexperienced" in bargaining, and he said the union appeared bent on arbitration from the beginning of negotiations last year.
The PERB, which supervises city labor relations, could have ordered a nonbinding mediation, but said that relations were so poor between the two sides that mediation would be pointless. "The parties' dealings have been characterized for over eight months by . . . acrimonious charges and countercharges. Whatever actual bargaining has taken place has moved them further away from final settlement rather than toward it," the PERB said. "This record offers no promise whatsoever of constructive improvement."
The city has had a history of conflicts with the FOP, but clashes escalated during bargaining. Before the talks opened last June, the city said it could not afford pay raises. But the city ultimately settled with other municipal unions in October on a three-year package that includes a 3 percent pay bonus, 7.5 percent raises over the next two years and a 1.5 percent raise at the end of the three years. Police, whose base pay range is $19,600 to $27,000, have sought higher raises.
Even before negotiating began, the city and the police argued over a legally mandated "pay study" in which District salaries are compared with other major cities. While most other unions agreed to use a management-conducted pay study, the FOP conducted its own survey and the two sides clashed on its applicability.
The union and the city also have filed various unfair labor practice complaints with the PERB, which found the city guilty of violating the law last October by cutting off employes' dental benefits after the last contract expired.
Under city law, the two sides will each name an arbitrator and the two will select a neutral third party. The three arbitrators are to conduct hearings, review bargaining records, and issue a ruling within 20 days.