The Police Association of Louisiana, which led police on an unsuccessful 15-day strike that crippled this year's Mardi Gras celebration, may have crippled itself in the process.
The teamster-affiliated union was able to rally about 1,200 of the 1,514-member force to strike, but union leaders failed to gain ratification of a contract they had endorsed after long negotiations with the city. Mayor Ernest N. Morial then ended the union's status as the official bargaining agent for the police.
Because strikers refused to obey a back-to-work order, the union was fined $600,000 -- a fine that union Vice President Vincent J. Bruno says the organization cannot afford.
Now the troubled union faces the loss of its membership.
The International Union of Police Associations, an AFL-CIO affiliate, is seeking members nationwide. And its first vice president, Jack Hawkonsen, says he's quite confident that eventually "we'll be romancing New Orleans."
But the Police Association of Louisiana won't give in without a fight.
"You don't try to organize 1,500 men and then walk away; that's bad," said Joseph Valenti, a negotiator during the strike who regards the Teamster effort here as "still winable." He says Teamsters President Frank E. Fitzsimmons told him that the union is committed to organizing police in its Southern conference, which includes New Orleans.
However, recruiting police "is not a Teamster priority," said Norman Goldstein, the union's national director of organizing. "We don't view New Orleans' situation as a special situation and we don't have any targets of organizing police around the nation."
"I don't think [unionizing police] is a national Teamster thing," Hawkonsen agreed. "Rather, it's a couple of enterprising organizers like Valenti. Otherwise there would be a more massive move and greater support for local police organizing campaigns."
The International Union of Police Associations claims about 40,000 members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Hawkonsen, who heads the Illinois and Chicago confederation of police, said his organization will not try to "raid" the New Orleans police union from the Teamsters.
But, he said, if the union sues of decertification from the Teamsters, his organization could move in as soon as it receives notification that the New Orleans group wants to affiliate.
Decertification could be easy, he said, because there is no contract between the police and the city.
Before the strike reached a stage of bitter infighting among the union membership that resulted in the contract's defeat, union leader Bruno had noted prophetically that the members "can't believe they will ever win anything. I'm afraid that if we had victory in our hands... we'd win and then somehow screw it up because we wouldn't be able to believe we actually had victory in our hands."
In a related labor matter here, the Teamster local that represents garbage collectors rejected a proposed contract with the city by a vote of 113 to 17. Negotiations between the union and the city are expected to resume later this week.
The chief objection to the proposal was the lack of job security, which could become an issue if the city hires a private company to collect garbage. Job security is implicit in the contract, said Leroy Aucoin, the city's assistant chief administrative officer for personnel, although it is not spelled out.
Union members also said they want a four-day work week and payment for time spent waiting for repairs to be made to garbage trucks.
Like the job security issue, said Aucoin, these matters are part of city policy but are not written down. He refused to speculate whether they will be in the proposed contract.
Last weekend, the city's firefighters, members of an AFL-CIO affiliated union approved their contract 656 to 172.
Balloting was conducted by mail instead of by voice vote because Clarence J. Perez, the union's president, canceled the second of two meetings. He said he had received "presure" from striking police.
Morial gained support from New Orleans residents during the police strike because he refused to give in to most of the strikers' demands, and he was pleased when he signed the contract with the fire-fighters in an attempt to land the 1981 Super Bowl for the Louisiana Superdome.