Harry Jaffe: Cops and D.C. might be close to new labor contract

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

Six years is way too long for cops in the District to have gone without a new labor contract. You know that, the city knows that, detectives with 30 years who haven't had a raise since 2007 know that.

It's a crime. But the cavalry might be coming!

I compared notes with incoming D.C. Judiciary Committee Chairman Tommy Wells a few weeks ago. He had been meeting with the folks whom his committee will oversee, among them Chief Cathy Lanier and her worthy opponent: Fraternal Order of Police President Kristopher Baumann.

What does Wells see as the greatest threat to public safety, I asked. Resurgence of PCP? Latino gangs? Persistent cellphone robberies?

"The lack of a collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police," he said. "I intend to look into it and try to move the process along."

That's very good news. The process needs a push.

Permit me to make a prediction: With Wells in the picture, the stars are aligning to make it likely that the city will be offering a contract that might be too generous to refuse.

The last collective bargaining agreement between the D.C. and the cops expired in September 2007. When the two sides started to negotiate another contract, Adrian Fenty was mayor. Fenty made no secret that he held public unions in low esteem and directed his negotiators to take a hard line, especially with the FOP.

Baumann filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city in May 2008. He said the city's negotiators with taking onerous positions that amounted to union busting. Among them were a clause that would have prohibited the union chief, in this case Baumann, from being a member of the police force. Though the hearing examiner agreed with the cops on many points, he concluded the city was still bargaining in good faith and dismissed the FOP complaint in September 2011. For the three years the complaint was active, there were no negotiations.

Mayor Vince Gray took office in 2011 and vowed to make deals, if not peace, with the unions. City Administrator Allen Lew brought in all the union bosses and promised a new day. Contracts are getting done.

The police contract will be expensive, even if it's a bare-bones, 3 percent raise for inflation. It will have to go back six years and forward a few, too. The good news is the city is flush. As I reported in a recent column, Mayor Gray will announce a surplus in excess of $400 million at the end of the month.

No one is talking on the record about the contract, but I am confident the city will offer up raises of close to 5 percent. What I don't know is whether D.C. has stuck to the union-busting language that even the hearing examiner found troubling. Let's hope not, because it could send the talks to impasse.

It would be great news if the city and the cops reached an agreement. Mayor Gray wants to hire more police, Wells seems to agree, and with a contract in place, we might be able to attract plenty of fine officers. They deserve the raises and stability a contract would bring, after six years with neither.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com.

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