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Mayor, FOP resume talks today on police layoffs

Monday, August 11, 2003

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Mayor Tom Murphy was booed and jeered by hundreds of Pittsburgh police officers and their supporters yesterday after he met with union officials in an effort to prevent the layoff of more than 100 officers.

Mayor Tom Murphy walks through a crowd of police officers and their supporters as he leaves the City-County Building with Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr., right, yesterday after meeting with Fraternal Order of Police executives over the planned layoff of 102 officers. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)


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Besides a decision to meet again today at 4 p.m., nothing concrete came from Murphy's one-hour meeting with Eugene Grattan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1.

On Aug. 29, 102 officers are slated to be fired on a last-hired, first-fired basis, except for those with military service, which state law mandates must be considered when calculating seniority. The layoffs are part of Murphy's effort to balance the city's budget.

In an interview after the meeting, Murphy said he and Grattan discussed increasing the number of officers taking early retirement and encouraging officers on partial disability and working "light duty" to take full disability.

Murphy said more substantive discussions were not possible yesterday because it was the first time he had heard the alternative proposals from Grattan.

"There are ways to mitigate this that will require all of us to work together," Murphy said. "I don't think any of us are excited about having to lay off young police officers."

He laid the blame for the crisis on state legislators,, saying they must "help the city's tax structure to modernize."

"We've been saying [there could be severe layoffs] for a year and a half ... if the Legislature didn't act," he said. "This should not be a surprise to anyone."

When Grattan emerged from the meeting, he, too, faced the wrath of the 200 to 300 officers -- some of whom brought their spouses and other supporters -- on the steps of the City-County Building, Downtown.

Eugene Grattan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, speaks to the crowd outside of the City-County Building, Downtown, before joining the FOP executive board meeting with Mayor Murphy. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

The crowd blocked Grant Street to traffic between Fourth and Forbes avenues for at least an hour.

Grattan declined to share specifics about the union's plans.

"If it doesn't work out," he told officers, "we're going to do other alternatives. We're going to try and put something together."

Although Murphy had said earlier that he'd be willing to speak to the officers gathered outside, he quickly changed his mind after exiting through the building's front door.

A chorus of angry hoots and jeers greeted him and he quickly ducked into his white sport utility vehicle with no comment after removing several protest signs that had been placed on it.

"We're going to impeach you!" yelled one person.

"Why don't you take a pay cut?" shouted another.

For those facing unemployment, yesterday's gathering was a chance to vent emotions.

Many held signs reading "Save Our Police" and others stood with their children.

Officer Mike Reddy, 29, a 39-month police veteran, will be on his honeymoon in Italy when his job is cut.

Lila Deary, whose husband, Tim, is a Zone 4 police officer, shouts at Mayor Murphy and Police Chief Robert McNeilly as they leave the City-County building after meeting with Fraternal Order of Police executives yesterday. Deary's husband will be keeping his job. Her 10-year-old son, Tim, accompanied her. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

He said his fiancee, Sheri Wolsko, lost her summer job as a lifeguard when Murphy closed Moore Pool as part of the budget cuts.

The couple, who plan to marry Aug. 23, recently bought a home and a new truck, too.

"It's going to be hard to enjoy the trip because there's not going to be much to come back to," said Reddy, a Carrick native.

"I always hoped it wouldn't come to this. I feel like we're pawns in a political game."

Kristen Dulski, 34, said being a police officer was her "dream job." She joined the force in December 2001.

She said her husband, a 10-year veteran of the force, retired three weeks ago with a disability. If she loses her job as now expected, the couple will not have medical coverage, she said.

"My concern is there's not going to be enough people on the street to answer the calls when the residents really need help," Dulski said.

"We're all going to be affected by it. Whether or not we lose our jobs, we live here."


Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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