Freezing rain and snow last Wednesday morning did not keep Helena Cummings from organizing a rally to support Indianapolis Police Department officers in their efforts to reach an agreement on a contract with the city. Problem is, the weather may have kept other supporters away. Just five people joined Cummings: Dick Longworth and his 19-year-old son Adam; Liza Stamm; Vince Huber, Fraternal Order of Police president; and Greg Jordan, Republican candidate for mayor.
Helena Cummings organized a rally last week to support IPD officers.
Forced to take shelter from the weather, Cummings stood inside a bus shelter located on East Washington Street in front of the City-County Building. Reporters and cameramen crowded her into a corner of the shelter, each waiting their turn.
Relegated to the sidewalk by a city permit, Cummings had originally hoped friends and family members of IPD officers would help her greet visitors to the City-County Building. She wanted to ask them to sign a petition that read, "We the undersigned, either live, work or at some time every day enter into the portion of Indianapolis that IPD protects. We want to let Mayor Bart Peterson know that we are aware of the way IPD is being treated during the contract negotiations, and we believe it is wrong. We want the Mayor to see to it that they are given a fair contract as soon as possible."
Undaunted, she held up a poster board with a picture of "her" officer, husband and three-year IPD patrolman Marvin Cummings. Cummings explained what brought her to her new role as grass-roots organizer: "My husband worked full time at the Indiana Department of Transportation and went to school at night to get an associate degree in criminal justice. He tried more than once to get on the department and made it after he finished his degree. I love him with all my heart and this has become a personal thing that affects me. It's disrespectful the way the city has been treating the guys. I'm sick of the city's half-truths. When you read press releases from the Mayor's Office, they make it a salary issue. The truth is it's more than a salary issue."
Cummings quickly rattled off a list of other concerns: better health insurance contributions, changes to the grievance procedure, a fifth week of vacation after the 20th year of service and job bidding. Cummings e-mailed the Mayor's Office requesting a meeting with Mayor Peterson to voice her concern over the lengthy contract negotiations. In her e-mail she cited instances of the city's top negotiators (Hudnall Pfeiffer and Tony Overholt) missing meetings. Liz Raynor, director of constituent services in the Mayor's Office, responded by e-mail that the Jan. 17 absence of Pfeiffer was due to a death in the family, and that Overholt had court proceedings to attend.
But the issue of Cummings meeting with the mayor was never addressed. So, Cummings took it to the streets. Huber concurred with Cummings' opinion of the city's response, or lack of it, toward contract negotiations. The city and the FOP have met 18 times since June of 2002, including meetings with a federal mediator. Huber feels that the city is not bargaining in good faith.
"The Mayor's Office attempts to [present] a very nice, positive feeling about the negotiations but I guarantee you that it's not a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling at the table. Their comments towards us are very negative; the open dialogue is simply not there." Huber stated that city negotiators could not agree to FOP demands because they (the FOP) were asking for too many "wholesale changes" in their previous contract.
"When your contract hasn't changed in 30 years, you're going to have some changes. And they wanted basically to white out the dates and put in new dates and call it a day and be done with it, and obviously we can't do that."
After conducting their own financial audits of the city, Huber refutes any suggestion that the city doesn't have money to meet their demands without raising taxes. Huber remarked on the city's interest in keeping the Colts while ignoring public safety needs.
IPD Chief Jerry Barker, a 33-year veteran of the department and a member of the FOP, will also be affected by the new contract. He commented, "I know people have strong feelings about this contract negotiation and I do know also that both sides want a fair and equitable solution in this. There's no doubt in my mind there's no evilness or mean-spiritedness here at all. But what frightens me is this: As I look out at our community during these tough economic times, I see people getting laid off, I see people with no jobs. I'm wondering what these people think. Obviously I want us to be paid the same as comparable departments - I think that we all want that ... I just hope that we don't lose the support of the community that we are dedicated to protecting and serving."
The FOP is the union for the police, yet by law police cannot strike. Sgt. Jon Daggy and his wife Sonya, also an IPD officer, expressed support for the FOP's efforts. Jon Daggy commented, "Both of us, as most other police officers, love this job and are committed to it. Indianapolis police officers work really hard; we take more runs and more reports than any other city in the country and we work eight and a half hour days. We just want the city to be fair and pay us what we're worth and bring us up to scale with other cities that are our size. I think the city just takes advantage of the fact that they know the police are going to keep working no matter what."
Greg Jordan commented, "I've been supportive of the police officers in their desire to have a contract with the city. I have told them that I realize it may not be possible for them to get everything they ask for and they understand that, but what they want, and I believe they deserve, is someone to bargain with them in good faith. I believe that is what has not occurred. I've gone on record before and each time I have consistently said that I urge the mayor to sit down and negotiate with his police officers. I have promised that I would do that if I were mayor, and I think it"s that important that we make our public safety officials aware of how much we appreciate and need their efforts."
Jordan has not asked for, or received, an endorsement from the FOP. The Mayor's Office, in a two-page letter to officers dated March 4, thanked them for "the fine work they do every day," and addressed the contract negotiations. The letter reviewed public safety initiatives over the past three years, including adding nearly 200 new officers, purchasing $12.5 million in new equipment and increasing the police budget by 8.6 percent this year. The letter also discussed wage increases of 3 percent in 2003, 3 percent in 2004, 4 percent in 2005 and $1,900 on Jan. 1, 2006, plus $500 on July 1, 2006.
Other contract issues of retiree health insurance, shift bidding, discipline and career pathing were discussed. Peterson closed his letter by stating, "Let me be clear - police officers will receive raises. I trust you understand that I am committed to entering a fair contract with the FOP, but it has to be one that also is fiscally responsible. "Again, I appreciate your service to our community, and I will continue to support the important work you do for our residents."
Cummings may have only entertained the company of a few people in the bus shelter last Wednesday, but she inspired one: Liza Stamm has organized a meeting of the spouses to plan their next step. And you can bet that Cummings will be there. "I hate the fact that the mayor will focus on the Colts but will not take the time to talk to the spouses of the men and women who protect the city."