Iron John

In five years PBA boss John Rivera has transformed his police union into a major political force

At the heart of the South Miami controversy is former PBA representative Louis Fosse. A pugnacious ex-New York City cop, Fosse filed several grievances against Chief Rafael Hernandez in 1996. Union members had complained about the chief's favoritism for a few cronies. Rivera, who got along with Hernandez, told Fosse to knock it off. Fosse refused. In early November 1996 the union yanked Fosse's status as PBA representative for South Miami but allowed him to stay in the union.

Left with a vacancy, South Miami's PBA members had to vote for a new representative. They chose Fosse again. Rivera's office, claiming that Fosse was handing out pamphlets from the FOP, the rival union, kicked Fosse out of the union for good on November 26.

"Fosse had a personality conflict with Hernandez that became very evident," Rivera says. "We had to figure out whether Fosse was doing things for the benefit of the members or the benefit of Louis Fosse."

Fosse declined comment.
The dispute heated up even more during the recent election of PBA friend Julio Robaina as South Miami mayor. On election day, South Miami Capt. Dan Salerno, a PBA member, issued Rivera a parking ticket as he campaigned outside the polls for Robaina. Afterward Salerno (who supported Robaina's opponent) was summoned to PBA headquarters and reprimanded by the board of directors, which viewed the ticket as a political act.

Last month at the request of 23 South Miami officers, including Fosse, the state approved a vote on decertification, which could result in the union's demise.

Rivera is unmoved by the brouhahas in South Miami and Hialeah. He is firmly in control of the union, and most members support him. "We have more than twenty departments in the county and trouble in only two or three of them," he says.

The union chief is looking forward to two pet projects: ousting Bolanos and county jail director Donald Manning, who has recently replaced officers with civilians in his department. Corrections officers say that Manning has created a hostile work environment and that morale has plummeted. Manning counters by calling the PBA's attacks on him "unethical."

At the June 3 meeting of the PBA board of directors, Rivera announced a more ambitious political target: Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay. Rivera blames McKay, now a leading gubernatorial candidate, for reducing pension benefits during an eleven-year period beginning in the early 1980s. "I vow and commit to you I will do everything in my power to see if we can't get somebody else in the mansion next election. Hopefully we will not give him a second chance to screw with our pensions," he told the members. "This means we'll have to get out there, get bumper stickers, get signs. Because when we do our thing, you all know how effective we can be."

As the meeting broke up, it was clear that among this bunch no one is going to question Rivera's aggressive political involvement. In most members' eyes, that works. As Metro-Dade Ofcr. K.H. Dooner puts it: "We're getting a lot more benefits. One thing's for sure -- he's one hell of a fighter.

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