The gloomy atmosphere at Salt Lake police headquarters, which precipitated when the department's union walked out on salary talks Monday, now threatens to cast a cloud over a gala celebration planned by the city this weekend.
Despite pledges by the department's union head to work to prevent any job action by police, union members are planning to picket the grand reopening of the renovated City-County Building and use other union tactics.In the meantime, while salary talks between the city and police are at a standstill, negotiations with the firefighters' union and city's blue-collar union also are moving at a snail's pace.
Four years without a cost-of-living increase, two years of frozen merit increases and an offer from the city for a 2 percent cost-of-living raise are not going down well for Salt Lake's finest.
"They should be embarrassed," said one officer.
The union wants a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment while the city is proposing to all three unions a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. The city would also thaw last year's freeze on 2 percent merit raises already in place.
For a 10-year veteran of the department, the 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment works out to about $10 a week, said police union President Dave Greer. Police officers must pass an exam before winning the merit increase.
"We're throwing down the gauntlet. The fight's on. We made a legitimate request and they insulted us with 2 percent (cost-of-living increase)," said Greer, who took over the union last December.
Salt Lake officers covered under the collective-bargaining agreement say some sort of action - be it a sick-out like one conducted last year or an all-out strike - is inevitable.
"I've had the sniffles for a year," said another officer.
"We're going to try to avoid having any job action," Greer said. "It's kind of my duty to avoid a job action. But the city has to act responsibly for me to do my job. And 2 percent is not responsible."
Among possible tactics being discussed among union members is a plan to picket the City-County Building during this weekend's rededication ceremonies, expected to attract thousands.
But the most controversial is a plan to notify the U.S. Olympic Committee of Salt Lake's problems, include ranking first in statistics for the number of larcenies per 10,000 people. Greer, however, would not comment on the proposal.
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said, "I would consider their actions as being premature in that the (negotiation) process is not through yet."
City relations with its other two unions are also tense. The International Firefighters Association Local 1645 won't accept the city's salary proposal, union head Charlie Quick said.
"At this point we have told the city that we have rejected their offer and we feel that they (the city) need to reassess their priorities," Quick said.
Merit increases for all city employees would cost $650,000, while a 2 percent cost-of-living-raise would cost $1 million, according to city Finance Department figures released at a winter budget meeting.
"I am making every effort this year to solve this wage issue," DePaulis said.
Quick, however, said the mayor's proposal doesn't go far enough. "We are not at all close on our needs vs. what they (the city) are willing to provide."
Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, representing city blue-collar and clerical workers, also said it is dissatisfied with the city's offer, union head Gordon Ottley said.