San Francisco's police union is in the throes of negotiating a new contract -- and its representatives are playing tag team with both incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan and leading challenger Willie Brown. Talks may expand to include challenger Roberta Achtenberg, but fourth-ranked candidate Angela Alioto is given only a dim chance to get her foot in the door as union leaders weigh her poll numbers more heavily than her history of support for their positions.
The fact that the current POA contract ended on July 1 during a mayoral campaign season is no accident. The union, along with its close relative, Firefighters Local 798, is a well-established political player able to go to the voters on its own behalf -- as well as for or against a candidate. The two unions proved just how important they are when they played a significant role in unseating incumbent Mayor Art Agnos four years ago.
Jordan, recognizing that politics supersede public policy, has been accompanied by his campaign manager, Clint Reilly, and Chief of Staff Jim Wunderman, in the contract talks, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Jordan made his move to politicize the negotiations earlier this year when he pulled the talks out of the impartial Department of Human Resources and assigned his own staff to handle the contract powwow. That earned Jordan a scolding from the city's Civil Grand Jury in a June 1 report when it officially took note that "The Mayor has removed from the Department of Human Resources negotiations with the two most politically powerful unions, fire and police." A tart-tongued mayoral response denied anything was up, and the issue slid from public view.
Jordan's leading opponent, Willie Brown, met with POA representatives last week after receiving a five-page letter outlining the POA's agenda for the upcoming contract.
"The POA is dealing with Jordan and talking with Willie Brown," says one source who asked not to be named. "In essence, it's about what it costs for an endorsement. It's that cold and that pragmatic."
Both Jordan and Brown told reporters last week that the city's cops are underpaid -- although neither let slip that he is talking with the cops about the issue.
The top contract issue is retirement benefits, which were slashed for police officers hired after 1975. The POA argues that the effect is to reduce officers' total compensation compared to what police receive in other California cities. It also strongly argues that the police could win better retirement while the city could simultaneously save money if the police were allowed to transfer out of the city retirement program and into the state retirement system -- as some other city workers, notably deputy sheriffs, have been able to do. While Jordan gave lip service to this notion earlier this year, he quietly killed a fact-finding effort that might have confirmed the POA's number-crunching.
Not all the POA's issues deal with pay, and some of the other items on the table have the potential to substantially alter civilian control over police discipline.
In a July 5 letter to Brown, POA President Al Trigueiro says his union wants police discipline to be taken out of the hands of the Police Commission and given to arbitrators -- a move traditionally opposed by the ACLU, lesbian and gay groups, and other advocates of comprehensive police discipline.
"We currently are strongly advocating that appeals of disciplinary actions be decided by neutral arbitrators rather than by the Police Commission," writes Trigueiro. "Appeals of disciplinary actions against police officers in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose are and have for some time been decided by arbitration."
The POA has long chafed under the Police Commission's authority to suspend or even fire bad cops, charging that politically appointed commissioners are subject to political pressures that sweep aside facts in favor of making popular decisions. The proposal is intended to put progressives on the horns of a dilemma, forced to choose between empowering labor and ensuring an open discipline process.
The effect of such a change also would spill over to the police chief, who would no longer be able to impose discipline or recommend strong penalties to the Police Commission. The Office of Citizens Complaints, already a weak investigative body, would retreat further from any chance of an activist role.
The POA also informed Brown that it wants to talk about the consent decree's requirements for promotions of women and minorities as part of the contract.
"The Consent Decree applicable to the POA should come to an end soon," writes Trigueiro. "The POA has an interest in seeing to it that potentially divisive issues, related to who gets promoted and how, are resolved with input from our entire membership. We have some ideas and proposals on this subject that we are eager to discuss with you."
In a third area, Trigueiro lays on the table a proposal to merge the airport police with the San Francisco Police Department -- which Trigueiro implicitly suggests would mean fulfilling the voter-mandated police staffing levels without the burden of adding more than 100 additional police officers (since the added airport police would count against the total). "The taxpayers ultimately benefit from such combinations when, as in this case, services could be produced more efficiently, without reducing wage and benefit levels."
Police Chief Anthony Ribera is "getting more police than he needs -- he's admitted that to us," says one high-level police union source.
There's no telling at this time whether a contract will be signed before the election, but as one source says, "We know it's going to look good. It's going to be like last time." In 1992, the pay and benefit package totaled 35 percent over the past three years.
When the gun goes off on the police contract, it will be a two-barrel blast. City tradition simply awards firefighters the same pay and benefits as police officers, so the firefighters union merely walks in to demand a "me, too" clause after the POA concludes negotiations.
The firefighters have been among the most loyal Jordan supporters -- they were the first major union to endorse him in 1991, fielding several hundred firefighters to walk precincts in Jordan's first campaign. Now things don't seem so certain for Jordan.
Meanwhile, Jordan is going to even greater lengths to camouflage his intentions from the public, telling voters he's getting tough on city workers while privately assuring union leaders that his stance is mere political posturing.
On June 29, Jordan unveiled a new city law he is placing on the November ballot, which appears to challenge city worker unions by forcing more city jobs into the hands of private-sector contractors.
"It is my hope that the members of the Board of Supervisors and the rest of the community will recognize that we can no longer continue to operate the city's business as usual," Jordan stated in a press release.
But the day before, Jordan Chief of Staff Jim Wunderman had placed a goodwill call to union attorney Vincent J. Courtney Jr. In turn, Courtney wrote a memo to key city union leaders informing them of Wunderman's message.
"He said he was calling to advise the POA that Mayor Jordan will soon be making a campaign splash with a proposal relating to contracting out city services," wrote Courtney. "He wanted to assure the POA that police officers would not be impacted by the measure."
Nor, apparently, will anybody else be impacted by the measure, as Wunderman explained it to Courtney.
"He made clear the proposal was a campaign matter with no significant impact to it," noted Courtney. "He said though some unions wouldn't like the positions the Mayor was taking, he didn't want the Mayor's relationship with the POA to suffer as a result."
Lose Your Home, Lose Your Job
BART board member and former Jordan International Trade Director James Fang was fined $22,000 in June for violations of the state Political Reform Act.
The fine must have emptied his pockets: According to filings at the Recorder's Office, Fang is $15,768.20 in arrears for the mortgage on his 647-649 Fifth Ave home. The bank holding the mortgage is none too pleased, and filed foreclosure on June 27.
Fang stands to lose more than just his home. Under the law, BART board members must live in the district they represent. If Fang loses his home and an address in the district, his BART seat will be declared vacant and a new election held.
They Have Answers,
We Have Questions
Mayor Jordan is practicing niche politics these days, appealing to certain voting segments with calculated actions generally kept well out of public sight. First Jordan refused to sign a Board of Supervisors resolution authored by Supervisor Mabel Teng opposing Gov. Pete Wilson's executive order eliminating some affirmative action programs. "The issues surrounding affirmative action require dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas in an environment clear of posturing," wrote Jordan in a letter returning the measure to the Board of Supervisors. "Several of the statements made in the resolution oversimplify the issue ...." Jordan doesn't identify the issues he believes to be oversimplified; one clue is that the resolution made a passing reference to the city's own Fire Department consent decree as an example of the need for continued monitoring of workplace harassment. Jordan refused to endorse the Fire Department consent decree earlier this year when he was busy posturing for the firefighters union endorsement. No sooner had Jordan silenced the Board of Supervisors' voice on affirmative action then he similarly sent back unsigned a resolution authored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano urging the San Francisco School Board to discontinue the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program in the schools because it prepares youth for a career closed to lesbians and gay men. Jordan's office said the resolution sat on board liaison Robert Oakes' desk until after the School Board had acted on the matter, making the issue moot. For the record, Oakes says Jordan had no position on the issue. ... The Committee on Jobs has such strong name ID that the Mime Troupe's new play, Coast City Confidential, refers to it by name and gets immediate reaction. Recognizing that this name recognition works against them, the committee has a new front, San Franciscans for Sensible Government, which last week mailed 50,000 copies of a brochure attacking Ammiano's tax package. "We want San Franciscans to be vocal on this issue ...," states the mailer, instructing voters to contact the board and urge a "no" vote at the July 31 session. The estimated cost of the package and mailing: $50,000.
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