There were flashes of anger and testy exchanges Tuesday between members of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police and the chairman of the D.C. Council. All of it is over an arbitrator’s decision siding with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on a new union contract.
The FOP says the decision was unlawful and should be rejected by the council. But the chairman seemed unconvinced.
The day began as a fact-finding mission for Phil Mendelson who wanted to hear the FOP’s argument for dumping the recent arbitrator’s ruling on the new union contract.
It is a ruling that is highly controversial amongst the rank and file because it doesn't offer a cost of living increase or back pay.
What transpired in a hearing room inside the Wilson Building was at times highly emotional with several dozen officers in attendance.
The Fraternal Order of Police came to the hearing armed with an argument and two former past presidents of the union to back it up.
The dispute at its core has much to do with how the arbitrator compared policing in the District with departments in other area jurisdictions -- a subject that led to a bitter exchange.
"The members on the street,” said newly-elected FOP chairman Delroy Burton, “have the responsibility to go out and deal with diplomats, to do dignitary movements, to deal with mass demonstrations, to be very, very well versed in First Amendment activities as required by this council, and to police in a way very different than some of those jurisdictions that you (Mendelson) mentioned.”
“So you can't have it both ways. You can’t say the Metropolitan Police Department has this very different responsibility, but our officers don’t, so we’re not going to compensate them for the additional responsibility. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Mendelson replied, “Well, I think it makes perfect sense.”
The council chairman had no sympathy for the FOP’s argument, telling Burton and the others, "And so now you are here before the council asking the legislative branch to step in and overturn the collective bargaining process because you don't agree with the arbitrator. You had a chance to make that argument and you didn't convince him.”
It was a claim the new union president was prepared for.
"We are not simply disagreeing with the result that he got,” said Burton. “What we disagree with is how he arrived at his decision and the process that is supposed to be followed to make the decision, what the law says and the process that needs to be followed after the decision. This is part of that process.”
The union says the arbitrator’s decision was unlawful and the council, not the courts, needs to act. It is a position that led to a bitter exchange when the council chairman seemed unconvinced.
This time, former FOP chairman Kris Baumann weighed in.
"Do you not read any of this stuff before you come in here?” said Baumann. “Is this just a joke to you? Is this just pro forma? It is sitting in front of you. The case sights are right there.”
“No, they’re not,” replied Mendelson.
“They are right there in my testimony,” said Baumann.
Mendelson also heard from the mayor’s budget director who told the chairman the arbitrator’s award was "above and beyond what was fair."
It is a claim met by jeers from the officers in the room.
Next week, the city council can accept the arbitrator’s decision without putting it to a vote and this whole thing would be done, but Chairman Mendelson said he will likely bring it to the floor and let the 12 other members vote on the contract. That is a move supported by the FOP.