With almost half the Los Angeles police officers scheduled for midnight-to-8 a.m. duty participating in a "blue flu" job action, city officials fought back Tuesday, winning a court order barring officers from continuing the controversial effort to win a pay raise.
Dave Zeigler, president of the Police Protective League, said the union's estimated 7,000 members will abide by Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien's temporary restraining order and continue to work pending a Dec. 16 hearing, at which the order could be made permanent.
"It's enough to stop what's going on right now," Deputy City Atty. Arthur Walsh said. "It's not enough to stop future actions."
Participation was spotty in the sickout that began at 11 p.m. Monday--when the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift was scheduled to report for duty. High percentages of officers called in sick in some divisions--about two-thirds stayed out in the Devonshire and Foothill divisions--but virtually all showed up for work in others. The Van Nuys Division had 100% of its officers show up.
Anticipating the absences, the department had called a modified tactical alert at 9 p.m. Monday that kept all officers from the night shift on duty until they could be replaced with whatever officers reported for the early morning watch. The job action called for the day shift to report to work as usual at 7 a.m.
"There was no impact on public safety," Police Cmdr. David Gascon said. "We were in a position, based on planning, to deal with this."
In the Rampart Division, one of the city's busiest police areas, nearly every member of the Tuesday morning watch called in sick, according to officers there. Participation in the blue flu was also said to be high in the 77th Street Division, an overcrowded station in South-Central Los Angeles where officers have long grumbled about working conditions.
The threat of retaliation hung heavy over the entire job action. "You know the old saying," one police officer said. "The department won't forget. And you know they won't forgive either."
Gascon said that out of 347 officers scheduled to report for duty for Tuesday's morning shift, 158 called in sick, although some of those were on pre-existing sick time. Normally, 20 to 40 officers call in sick on each shift.
"No one is anti-union here," said Sgt. John Herkowitz of the 100% turnout at Van Nuys. "Each one of those individuals looked within themselves and made an adult decision about what they felt was right. Every one of them wants a contract and every one of them wants a raise," he said. But, "They swore an oath to do the service and here they are."
Some Valley residents voiced sympathy for the officers. "I kind of don't blame them, but I'm upset that it puts the city in peril," said Linda Tandy Jackson of the Bull Creek Pocket Patrol, a citizens' patrol in Van Nuys.
Don Schultz, president of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn., said that "frankly, I think the police are justified."
"I think we've been let down by our public officials. . . . Funds are being found for less important issues than public safety. . . . The LAPD and the Fire Department are two public safety entities, and I think they should be taken care of by the city as priorities over and above everything else," Schultz said.
Gascon said the department will decide what to do about absences "on a case-by-case basis."
"The improper use of sick time is fraudulent," Gascon said. "We don't feel this is an appropriate way to make a point."
The absence of almost half the officers Tuesday morning sent "a strong message to the city," said Hank Hernandez, the Police Protective League's general counsel. "Certainly, the city has noticed."
The sickout was called by the police union in an effort to get some movement from city leaders on the league's demands for a 9% raise over four years. The city, facing a projected 1993-94 budget deficit of $200 million, says it can't afford that.
Beginning LAPD officers make $33,157 a year--more than officers in several of the nation's largest police departments. However, the pay level of new LAPD officers has slipped to eighth among the 10 largest departments in California.
The decision to call in sick was a tough one, said many officers.
Patrol Officer Al Ruvalcaba, who works at the Wilshire Division, where about half of the 20 officers on the morning watch failed to show up, said Tuesday was the first sick day he had taken in 24 years.
"I did this after a lot of soul-searching," he said. "I had to make a statement. I've always gone to work sick. But this time, I felt there was no other choice."
In the LAPD's South and Central bureaus, officers reacted with mixed emotions to the job action. Torn between professional commitment and feelings of anger at the City Council, patrol officers and detectives at some of the city's busiest precincts grudgingly reported for duty Tuesday morning.