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Police Map an Escalating Drive for Pay Hike : LAPD: Options include a mass sick day and a halt to writing tickets. Officers want a raise at least equal to that won by DWP workers, but are concerned about public backlash.

September 14, 1993|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emboldened by the settlement of a contract for Department of Water and Power employees, leaders of the union representing Los Angeles police officers have crafted plans for a series of escalating confrontations as they press for salary increases for officers.

The union's new round begins today, with the expected release of a report prepared for the union by a San Francisco accounting firm. Union leaders say the report concludes that city budget does have room for a salary increase--contrary to the arguments of Mayor Richard Riordan and members of the City Council.

David Zeigler, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he plans to forward that report to Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who chairs the council's Budget and Finance Committee. Zeigler added that he expects to appear before the council Wednesday to explain the accountant's findings.

But union officials, who represent rank-and-file police officers, are not optimistic that the council will readily accept the latest analysis. Because of that, they are preparing to escalate their tactics and confront city leaders with their demand that police officers, who have been without a contract for 14 months, receive raises at least as large as those granted to DWP workers. The DWP employees were given 3% annual raises for three years, as well as a small retroactive payment.

"We are adamant about that," Zeigler said. "There's no reason why we should be treated less favorably than DWP workers."

Zeigler and other union leaders ruled out a strike, but officers already are discussing a number of other options. Among them: a mass sick day, a temporary halt to writing traffic tickets or a so-called "by-the-book strike," in which officers would go about their jobs with meticulous attention to recording every move they make. The latter action would vastly slow down the city's law enforcement activities.

Neither Zeigler nor other union leaders would comment on which, if any, of those options they are prepared to employ.

"We are not going to do anything that will put the public at risk," Zeigler said. "But that leaves plenty of options open to us."

The union's position places Riordan in a potential quandary. The mayor won office largely on his promise to add 3,000 police officers by the end of his four-year term, a vow that will severely test the city's limited financial resources. But if Riordan tries to save money for new hires by denying existing officers a raise, it would surely test the loyalty of the Protective League and its members, who had enthusiastically backed Riordan.

At the same time, however, the league will have to proceed with care if it is to avoid a public backlash against police officers. The LAPD has taken a public relations beating during the past two years, since the Rodney G. King incident exposed the department and its officers to national scrutiny.

"The league has got to be careful with this," said an observer familiar with the negotiations between the city and the union. "They don't want to get to the point where the public is embarrassed by the officers. They're looking for a way to get their message out without alienating the public."

Gary Greenebaum, the president of the Police Commission, said Monday that he believes officers deserve a raise, but he cautioned that the city's budget is extremely tight and he warned the union against taking action that might antagonize the public.

"I think it would really be unfortunate if it came to negative tactics," Greenebaum said. "To take up those tactics at this juncture is not a healthy thing, and I think it would be counterproductive if they were to do so."

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League officials say they will begin by pressing council members to consider the findings laid out in the accountant's report. On Thursday, the union is planning to open a phone bank to get its message to as many rank-and-file officers as possible.

Then, next Tuesday, league officials hope to culminate this round of their campaign with a demonstration at City Hall that will include a march on council chambers. The demonstration originally had been scheduled for Friday, but the council canceled its Friday session, and union leaders rescheduled.

Many officers learned about plans for the demonstration at roll calls last week, and on Monday, the union sent all rank-and-file officers a bulletin decrying what league officials say is the city's intransigence at the bargaining table.

"Since July, City Council has been stonewalling us!" states the bulletin, which is signed by Zeigler. "There is no way that we will take less than what was given to the workers of the Department of Water and Power. They don't take the risks that you do every day."

While expressing sympathy for the officers, commission President Greenebaum urged them to remain patient and to pursue their salary demands at the negotiating table, where representatives of the league and the city have been at work for months. Police Chief Willie L. Williams has declined to comment on the progress of the talks, but addressed the issue in a recent videotaped message to officers.

In that message, Williams dismissed what he called the "rumors and innuendoes" that he was not pressing for pay increases. Although the chief, like Greenebaum, cautioned that the city's budget situation was dire, he told officers that he was lobbying the mayor and City Council to "get you the dollars you deserve and the equipment that you deserve."

"The men and women, civilian and sworn, of the Los Angeles Police Department," Williams concluded, "deserve a raise."

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