LONG BEACH — Angry police union officials say they will go to court, the public and back to the City Council to rekindle contract talks that screeched to a dramatic halt this week when the council took the unusual step of declaring an impasse and adopting a new police contract without the consent of the union.
"We're not going to go easy," police union President Mike Tracy told council members. "You may ultimately be successful in stealing these benefits, but you're going to have to pry them out of our cold, dead hands.
"The foul memory of this lynching is going to follow you forever," he said as dozens of off-duty officers applauded, only to watch the council pass an impasse vote minutes later.
The union's attorney is seeking an emergency court order blocking the imposition of a new contract on the grounds that it violates the city's labor agreement with the 610-member union.
If the union fails to get a temporary restraining order, city Personnel Director William Storey said the city will, over the next several weeks, start enacting provisions of the new, one-year contract, which makes a number of major changes in police department personnel policies dealing with such matters as shifts, transfers and the number of officers assigned to a patrol car.
The council has been threatening for weeks to declare an impasse in the talks, which began in March. Although the council had twice postponed an impasse vote to give negotiators more time to reach a settlement, it decided Tuesday with little debate to adopt the city's last contract offer. The vote was 8 to 0. Councilman Warren Harwood, who was on jury duty, was absent.
Often considered pro-police union in the past, the council has taken an unusually tough stance on the contract, aligning itself with the city manager and police chief, who have been hired since the last contract was adopted.
Armed with complaints about slow police service and a consultant's report that concluded that various staffing policies cherished by the union are expensive and inefficient, the city has demanded extensive concessions from the traditionally powerful union. Salary issues have played a comparatively minor role in the talks.
The union, for its part, has insisted that city management is suddenly trying to eliminate longstanding contract clauses that have lured officers to the force.
The result has been a duel of wills that promises to continue and perhaps intensify. "The citizens out there are tired of waiting two hours to get a response (to an emergency call). We know what it will take to correct that," Mayor Ernie Kell said.
"I think all of us, myself and the council, were hoping we could solve this with negotiations," he added. "We feel our offers were fair and equitable. But when you get to the point when it's interfering with service to the people, we have to take action."
Still, Storey was holding out the possibility that "at some point down the road the parties will get back together and continue negotiating. That will happen. It always does," he said, recalling that two months after the city declared an impasse in negotiations with the City Employees Assn. in 1983, talks resumed and a settlement was reached.
By Tuesday afternoon, the police chief was already taking advantage of the new contract to tell Tracy that he is expected to report back to regular duty in two weeks. The city's contract greatly reduces the amount of paid time allowed to union officials to tend to union affairs by dropping a provision that allows the union president to spend all his time on union job.
And by Tuesday afternoon, the union had already prepared a letter to council members, warning that the management tactics are driving officers from the force. Nearly one-sixth of the 650-member force, the letter said, has applied for transfers to other departments in the state.
"The LBPD is no longer a decent place to work," the letter said. "Management, like sharks feeding in a frenzy, is devouring its own organization. Soon the Police Department will have a chief of police who will have no one to lead. Maybe that is their game plan or maybe it is just plain old union-busting."
The letter was signed by members of the union board.
Many of the key points that had been in dispute early in negotiations remained in dispute this week. Although the union in the last week had essentially agreed to the city's demands on transfer policies, giving the police chief more authority to transfer officers within the department, both sides continued to contend that the other was asking too much in regard to staffing patrol cars, shifts, drug testing and other issues.
The city-imposed contract would change the current practice of assigning all night-shift officers to two-officer cars, creating one-officer units after dark. It would also assign officers to a five-day, 40-hour week, rather than the four-day, 40-hour week that is now standard practice in the department. The contract also gives officers a 5% pay raise.