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LA police union leaders, city officials trade charges over contract

With Los Angeles city and police union officials headed back to the negotiating table, the two sides spent Tuesday taking public jabs at each other

By Joel Rubin and David Zahniser
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — With Los Angeles city and police union officials headed back to the negotiating table, the two sides spent Tuesday taking public jabs at each other over the failure so far to reach a contract agreement.

Scores of rank-and-file cops and their leaders from the Police Protective League packed a morning meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD.

Although the commission has no formal voice in the contract talks, union officials used the meeting to make their case.

In comments to the commissioners, Tyler Izen, the league’s president, tried to explain the outcome of a vote last week in which officers rejected a proposed one-year deal that city and union officials had negotiated.

“What we found was a body of officers that did not feel supported or respected by either the department or the city,” Izen said. “Our officers felt the lack of a raise was a slap in the face.... This was not greed. This was the frustration of knowing that although you are among the best in your calling you are paid among the least.”

Several other union officials echoed Izen, saying that officers had accepted minimal pay increases in previous years with the expectation of a larger raise in salary this time.

The reluctance of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to make concessions during negotiations on an aspect of the department’s discipline system had exacerbated long-simmering frustrations among officers over how punishments are handed down, union officials added.

Appearing at a panel discussion on urban innovation, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he is ready to keep talking to the union. But he defended the contract offer, saying that the city could not afford to give raises across the department as it struggled to close an estimated $242-million budget gap.

Garcetti added that the proposed agreement would have provided officers a big increase in overtime pay in a tough budget year.

“Bottom line, everybody would have had a bigger paycheck at the end of this year” thanks to the extra overtime, Garcetti said. “We wanted to do something to help officers’ families while at the same time living within our means.”

Beck sided with Garcetti in an email sent to officers after the vote, in which he criticized union leaders for failing to push through the proposed deal that, Beck said, “went a long way towards restoring the fiscal health of this department.”

In comments Tuesday, Beck told the officers in attendance that the “negotiation has nothing to do with your value. You are the best cops in the nation.... I would love to see you compensated in a way that reflected that, but the reality is that the city can only do so much.”

Union officials declined to release the results of the vote, but Beck warned officers against infighting among themselves over whether the proposed agreement should have been accepted. He recounted how the department was “torn apart” by contentious contract negotiations and a stalemate that lasted for a few years in the early 1990s.

The proposed agreement -- the result of months of talks -- offered increased pay for incoming officers and about 1,000 others who joined the department in recent years at a lower salary. The increases were meant to address the increasing difficulty the LAPD is having recruiting and keeping young officers who are wooed by higher salaries offered by other departments in the region.

The deal did not, however, provide raises for the vast majority of the 9,900 officers represented by the league.

Had it been approved, the proposed contract called on the city to provide up to $70 million in overtime payments over a 12-month period -- a significant increase from the $15 million in last year’s budget.

The infusion of cash would have been a major change from the last five years, which saw LAPD officers rack up hundreds of thousands of overtime hours, only to have payment postponed years into the future. Deferred overtime hours must be paid when an officer retires, typically at a much higher salary.

The return to a pay-as-you-go approach would have also provided some relief to LAPD brass, who have forced hundreds of officers to take time off each month in an effort to rein in the growth of unpaid overtime. With so many officers unavailable, commanders have struggled to fill patrol shifts.

The timeline for restarting negotiations had not yet been set, union officials said.

Copyright 2014 the Los Angeles Times