This city's first police strike has ended, and Mayor Ernest N. Morial's political prestige is its most prominent victim.
Morial triggered Thursday night's strike vote by recognizing the Fraternal Order of Police as the official collective bargaining agent for New Orleans' 1,514-member force. He chose that relatively conservative organization instead of the militant Police Association of Louisiana, a Teamster affiliate.
The police association claims 725 members, about 125 more than the Fraternal Order of Police. Recognition came Tuesday, and the strike followed two days later. Even though the city won a temporary restraining orday Friday that commanded the strikers to return to work, the number of walkouts escalated Friday night until nearly two-thirds of the city's police -- including high-ranking officers -- had joined the pickets, according to reports from union representatives and the city's eight police districts.
At about 10:30 p.m. Friday, sensing the growing support for the police association, the Fraternal Order of Police withdrew as union representative for the force. At 1:45 a.m. today, Morial announced that he was accepting the police association as the bargaining agent.
In a meeting this afternoon, association members voted to accept an interim agreement with the city and return to work. Details of the agreement are to be worked out within a week.
Morial's acceptance of the Teamster affiliate represented an embarrassing about-face. The Teamsters represent the city's garbage workers, and Morial had declared as late as Friday afternoon that he did not want that union representing the police as well.
This was a major reason for his recognition of the Fraternal Order of Police, better known for social affairs than for social activism.By conferring negotiator status upon that organization, Morial sought to undercut the police association.
As strike support grew, Morial alienated top police officials by ordering that strikers be fired. Police Supt. James C. Parsons talked him out of that. Nevertheless, Morial retained his characteristic stubbornness. Even this morning, when he agreed to recognize the police association, he refused to admit that he had underestimated the strength of the union's support.
By giving in on the police representation issue, Morial apparently ended the threat of a strike Monday by the Teamster-affiliate garbage workers, according to Mitchell Ledet, secretary-treasurer of their union local.
Morial's shift also apparently ended fears that the Feb. 27 Mardi Gras celebration might have to be curtailed. Carnival street parades start next weekend, and sponsors had drawn up contingency plans if the police walkout had continued. Morial said in a news conference Friday that the strike did prompt cancellations of some hotel reservations for the annual event.
The city's firefighters still may strike, because their union's bargaining with the city so far has failed to reach agreement.
The firefighters, like the sanitation workers and the police, were angered when the city's Civil Service Commission approved a pay raise but lopped off some sick leave and vacation.
Ledet said Morial agreed to support the Teamsters union in working to restore the benefits.