UNIONSIDE1207/14″/mike1st/mark2nd By HOWARD FINE Staff Reporter The Los Angeles Police Department’s labor relations unit is one of its more obscure operations. Yet its mandate, to monitor virtually every labor action within L.A. city limits, has been gaining importance as local unions increasingly flex their muscles. “Ninety-five percent of everything that happens with labor in this city we track,” said Lt. Chuck Helm. “That means keeping in contact with over 300 union locals and with management at companies all over the city.” The 11-person unit was created in 1968 by then-Chief Ed Davis to ensure that unions are allowed to exercise their right to hold protests and rallies and to try to prevent those rallies from becoming violent or causing major disruptions. Helm said union officials typically contact his unit to let them know of an upcoming labor action. Then, he sends one or two officers from his unit to meet with labor and management to discuss the action. “We try to tell each side the ground rules and let them know what they can or cannot do,” Helm said. “The aim is to ensure that the labor action goes forward with minimal disruption to the surrounding area and to minimize the chances for violence.” At the labor action itself, Helm typically sends plain-clothes officers to monitor the event. “The key is being able to keep in contact with the people in charge of the picket lines, to make sure they follow the guidelines we lay down,” he said. For the most part, Helm said, picket leaders follow the rules, but not always. In 1990, the Service Employees International Union brought its nationwide “Justice for Janitors” campaign to Century City. About 400 picketers marched from Beverly Hills to the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Century Park East, blocking a key exit out of Century City at the height of a Friday-afternoon rush hour. That prompted the LAPD to order the marchers to disburse. But violence soon erupted and about 100 police officers moved in with batons to put an end to the march. When it was over, 40 marchers were arrested and 16 were injured. After a Police Commission inquiry and several lawsuits, the city agreed three years later to pay $2.4 million to the SEIU and the injured marchers. As part of another labor dispute, the SEIU sent footage of the incident to media outlets and tourist offices around the country. Coming as it did after the 1992 riots, the move prompted a widespread backlash; critics said it unfairly portrayed all of L.A. as a hostile place that would drive away tourist dollars. In its lawsuit against the city, the SEIU claimed it had made provisions for the march beforehand with the LAPD labor detail and with the mayor’s office. The SEIU claimed that the violence was precipitated by the LAPD when officers moved in to put an end to the march.