An arbitration panel's ruling this week that the District must grant its police union larger pay raises than those already accepted by D.C. firefighters triggered a move yesterday by a third major union to force the city to reopen negotiations on salaries for nearly 8,000 city workers.
The American Federation of Government Employes (AFGE) filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board, accusing Mayor Marion Barry of understating the city's 1985 revenues by $41.3 million and giving misleading warnings of possible layoffs while negotiating a new three-year contract last fall.
Joslyn N. Williams, president of the AFL-CIO's Metropolitan Washington Council, predicted that other public employe unions would follow suit in attempting to reopen contract talks, in light of the three-member arbitration panel's unprecedented ruling and a growing controversy over the city's revenue projections.
"I don't think the unions have any alternative," Williams said. "Either the city was not truthful or it did not have adequate revenue information. I think it's perfectly legitimate for other unions to reopen negotiations."
The 2-to-1 arbitration decision, which can be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the City Council, provides the 3,300-member police union with annual pay raises ranging from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent over three years, compared to the 3 to 4 percent annual raises accepted by the International Association of Firefighters and other city unions.
Donald H. Weinberg, the city's chief labor negotiator, said yesterday that the Barry administration is considering a number of options, including a challenge in D.C. Superior Court to the panel's ruling. The arbitration decision could cost the city up to $23 million.
Weinberg said he hadn't seen the AFGE complaint, but he contended that the seven unions that signed new three-year contracts covering about 20,000 D.C. employes are not entitled to reopen negotiations.
"There are no favored-nations clauses in our contracts," Weinberg said. "That is part of the reason for us being in arbitration with the police union . We certainly wanted to have internal alignment and preserve what we've negotiated with other unions. We feel that's very important."
The 65-page ruling in favor of the Fraternal Order of Police was the first salary dispute decided by binding arbitration under D.C labor law, and it discards the longstanding principle that Washington's police and firefighters should receive the same salaries.
Police will now be paid more than firefighters for the first time in about 60 years. Pay scales for police and firefighters, prior to the current contract, started at $19,850 yearly, with a $28,584 maximum after 16 years.
If the arbitration panel's ruling holds up, the salaries for D.C. police officers would be comparable to those of rank-and-file police officers in Arlington and would exceed those of officers in Alexandria and Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
In other area jurisdictions, police officers and firefighters have rough but not precise parity in salaries, with police more often being paid slightly more.
The panel's ruling received a mixed reaction from City Council members, who may make the final decision.
"My initial reaction is that they the police union played by the rules and they won," said City Council Chairman David Clarke. "Secondly, I fully expect every other union to be pretty mad with the mayor because he pleaded poverty and it didn't show up that way. We had a tax increase and we also had a surplus."
Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), said he supported the panel's findings but thinks firefighters are entitled to parity in benefits. "I always considered police and firefighters a different category from the rest of the city work force because they risk their lives," he said.
However, council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) said she was troubled by the panel's ruling and feared that it might cause morale problems among other city workers.
"It was very disturbing," Rolark said. "It was so inequitable in terms of the other public safety sector and the rest of the employes."
Thomas Tippett, president of the firefighters local union, said this week that his union was "basically satisfied" with its settlement. But some rank-and-file members said yesterday they feel they are entitled to pay parity with police.
"The city has been manipulating the police and fire departments," one firefighter said. "They paired us against each other and now it looks really bad."
Another firefighter said that his union had to show flexibilty in bargaining with the city to win certain economic concessions and to hammer out complicated fire truck manning rules.
"We had more to lose by going to arbitration," he said. "I'm glad police got the raise becasue that will help us in the future. But I know a lot of guys are pretty sore."
The new contract was the talk of the day at D.C. police headquarters. "It will be a long time before someone dislodges the FOP," said one assistant chief. "They can really hang their hats on this one."
In the complaint filed yesterday with the Public Employee Relations Board, the AFGE charged that D.C. officials engaged in unfair bargaining practices by stating that the city was experiencing "serious financial conditions" and might have to lay off workers and reduce services unless the union made major concessions.
Early this month, Barry issued a mid-year financial report estimating that the city will receive $41.3 million more than originally anticipated in revenues for fiscal 1985, which ends Sept. 30.
"The lack of honesty on the part of the D.C. government in dealing with its workers will have a long-term negative effect on future negotiations," said Ron King, AFGE's chief negotiator. "The D.C. government and Mayor Barry have lost all credibility at the bargaining table."