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The Chicago Police Department’s largest union announced it would mail ballots Monday to thousands of active and retired rank-and-file cops for a vote on a proposal that could eventually lead to its first contract in four years.
“Today, contract ratification ballots will be sent to all 11,000+ voting members of (Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7),” the FOP said in a tweet Monday morning. “Your vote matters, so we ask every member to fill out the ballot and promptly return it.”
The FOP and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration have been involved in tense contract negotiations since she took office in 2019. The progression of those talks has often been overshadowed by a war of words between Lightfoot and FOP President John Catanzara, who haven’t been shy about bashing each other publicly.
The FOP’s decision to send ballots to the Chicago police’s active and retired rank-and-file members was followed Monday afternoon by a news release from Lightfoot saying the city and union had come to a tentative agreement.
The agreement is tentative because it’s pending approval from police officers and the City Council.
The financial package for the rank and file is a 20% raise over an eight-year period — 10.5% retroactively going back to 2017 when the last full contract expired, and 9.5% for the remaining four years into 2025, Catanzara told the Tribune on Monday. The average annual raises for the rank-and-file officers in the tentative agreement are similar to those given to Chicago police supervisors and firefighters in their most recent contracts.
On Monday afternoon, the FOP initially estimated the retroactive pay increase could cost Chicago taxpayers about $600 million. But city officials disputed that, saying it would instead cost about $365 million, and that the union’s figure must have been referring to the cost for the entire eight-year period.
The Lightfoot administration set aside about $103 million in the 2021 budget to pay for any wage increases agreed upon in the FOP contract, and said the rest of the money would come from “future refinancing.” City officials did not say whether they’d have to borrow money to pay for the wage increases, but during a Monday news conference, Lightfoot said the city has been “tucking money away for this little by little every year.”
Lightfoot also said she’s pleased the contract is finally getting done but that it shouldn’t have taken so long.
“I shouldn’t have walked into office with a contract that was already two years expired. It shouldn’t have taken us two more years to get it done because we had an FOP leadership that was refusing, literally refusing, to get to the table,” she said. “And I told them over and over again, we’re not going to talk about money unless we talk about accountability.”
Some of those police accountability provisions the Lightfoot administration highlighted in the agreement, per a news release from her staff, were the elimination of a requirement that police disciplinary records older than five years old be destroyed; an end to allowing officers to change their testimony during disciplinary investigations after viewing video evidence; and recognition that officers who report potential misconduct are “acting in the highest traditions of public service.” .
The agreement also addressed how to deal with a new state law that allows anonymous complaints against cops and no longer requires complainants to sign affidavits attesting to the accuracy of their statements.
The mayor’s office said there will be an “expedited” process, also known as an “override,” for anonymous complainants. But on Monday, Catanzara said there’ll be assurances that the officers would get to question the threshold by which the investigatory agency — whether it’s the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs or the city’s inspector general’s office — determined the anonymous complaints sound credible.
“We at least have the assurances that it wasn’t just arbitrary and capricious, somebody just (filed nonsense) complaint after (nonsense) complaint, and they just keep doing overrides without even looking into the merit of what was being told to them,” Catanzara said.
He also said the agreement is not a full contract. Other parts need to be negotiated, including language in the contract about police use of body cameras and provisions regarding when the Police Department can cancel days off, he said.
Chicago police Superintendent David Brown has frequently increased officers’ shifts to 12-hour days and canceled days off over the last year as violence throughout the city has remained at elevated levels following the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest that resulted from the police-custody murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We are literally going to hold the city’s feet to the fire about increasing the compensation for canceling people’s days off,” Catanzara said. “You shouldn’t get paid the same amount of money if you volunteer to work your (day off) as opposed to getting it canceled. That just doesn’t make any sense to anybody, except for the city. So, that’s going to be a big demand, not even an ask. And I don’t see them saying ‘yes,’ so I can see that going to arbitration.”
The tentative agreement also called for increased health care contributions for rank-and-file officers. Officers will see a 0.75% increase of their annual salaries toward health care contributions starting in January. In January 2024, those health care contributions will rise another 0.75%, officials said.
By July of next year, rank-and-file cops who retire at 55 will see their health insurance contributions from their annual pensions jump from 2% to 3.5%, and those who retire at 60 will see the jump from 0 to 1.5%, city officials said.
City officials, though, agreed to pay the FOP an additional $300,000 in the next few years for so-called health fairs that allow the union to provide health screenings for its members. But the FOP must provide to city officials regular reports about the screenings so the city can decide whether they’re cost-effective.
In a YouTube video posted online on Friday, Catanzara told the rank and file that the FOP’s “active portion” of the board of directors voted 14 to 1 to hold a ratification vote.
“We are asking all members vote yes or no, but make sure you vote,” Catanzara said in the video. “We are trying to send the city a message that this membership is engaged in what goes on more than ever before. We need a giant number. There will be over 11,000 votes available. It’d be great to have 11,000 ballots-plus coming back just to let the city know enough is enough.”
The last comprehensive contract lasted three years.
In the latest negotiations, the union and city officials have been divided on police disciplinary issues at a time when the FOP has also voiced opposition to a federal consent decree aimed at overhauling how the city’s historically troubled police force operates. Lightfoot has made reforming the department a priority.