Key City Panel Set to Consider Extending Police Union Contract, Upending Police Discipline System

A key city panel on Thursday will consider an agreement to extend the contract with the city’s largest police union for an additional two years in return for bigger than expected raises and bonuses for officers. The contract would also upend the system used to punish officers for 60 years.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration will ask the City Council’s Workforce Development Committee to endorse the agreement they brokered to resolve the issues left over from the contract agreement reached by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot in July 2021 that ended the longest union negotiations in the city’s history.

But in a highly unusual move, Johnson will ask members of the Workforce Committee to reject a key part of that agreement, which would give Chicago officers facing a suspension of at least a year or termination the right to have their cases decided by an arbitrator rather than by the Chicago Police Board.

The arbitrator in charge of resolving the issues that could not be settled as part of the 2021 police contract ruled officers had that right, over the vehement objections of city officials and police reform advocates.

Allowing officers to have serious discipline cases resolved behind closed doors by a single individual rather than a public board made up of members confirmed by the Chicago City Council would be “a major setback for police accountability and reform,” Johnson said.

It is unclear whether, or how, the City Council could reject part of the agreement without scuttling the whole painstakingly crafted deal.

The Chicago City Council has the power to either accept or reject the first labor agreement reached by negotiators and blessed by the mayor but cannot make changes to its terms. A vote to reject even part of the deal could send both the city and the police union back to the bargaining table, or to court.

The agenda for the meeting of the Workforce Development Committee set to start at noon Thursday calls for two separate votes on the contract extension: one on the overall deal, and one on the changes to the way officers are disciplined for serious misconduct.

Anthony Driver Jr., the president of an interim commission overseeing the Chicago Police Department, urged the panel to reject the provision that would change how officers are disciplined.

The arbitrator’s decision “makes a mockery of transparency and puts the most egregious of police misconduct cases in the hands of people who have no vested interest in our city or community,” said Driver, president of the interim Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, known as the CCPSA, which now has the power to nominate members of the Police Board. Those nominations must be confirmed by the mayor and City Council.

The change is also opposed by Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman.

It is unlikely a majority of City Council members would vote for a deal that includes such a significant change to the police discipline process at a time when the city has been ordered by a federal judge to change the way it trains, supervises and disciplines officers. The city has fully complied with just 6% of the requirements detailed in the agreement that is nearly five years old.

For decades, scandals, misconduct and brutality have engulfed the Chicago Police Department.

However, Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, President John Catanzara said the right of an officer facing serious determination to have their fate decided by an independent arbitrator is no different from any other city employee’s right to contest punishment.

“But this is standard labor practice, and I hope the City Council members can appreciate,” Catanzara said in a video posted to the union’s social media channels. “If you are the party of labor, you should be respectful of that provision, even if you are not 100% in agreement with it.” 

But Driver said police officers must be held to a higher standard.

“When you work in a profession that you can take away someone’s life and liberty and cause great harm,” Driver said, “the bar must be higher.”

Driver said the city should not “go backward” in transparency around police misconduct cases and that arbitrators are not the “right people to decide what’s best for our community in such serious cases when they have no investment in our city.”

Rank-and-file CPD members are covered by an eight-year contract, which was retroactive to 2017 and is set to expire in 2025, which calls for officers to get approximately 19% in raises during the life of the agreement and imposed new rules on officers suspected of misconduct.

Johnson said the extended deal, which would expire June 30, 2027, is “fair and in alignment with Chicago’s current policing needs, economic landscape and budgetary capabilities.” It is the first labor agreement reached by Johnson, who took office in May.

The mayor’s office said the proposed contract would take “a critical step towards improving the homicide clearance rate” by creating dedicated teams to investigate each killing. Modeled on a program in Los Angeles, teams would get five weeks to solve murders before being assigned to other cases, officials said.

In addition, the proposed contract extension would give department leaders more flexibility on who they assign to patrol CTA buses and trains. The current contract reserves the vast majority of those spots for veteran officers.

The proposed contract extension calls for officers to get raises of at least 16% over the life of the agreement, including 5% raises in 2024 and 2025, officials said. The current contract calls for officers to get raises of 2.5% in 2024 and 2025.

In 2026 and 2027, officers’ raises would be tied to inflation, with officers getting raises of at least 3% and no more than 5%, officials said.

In addition, all officers would get a one-time bonus of $2,500 under the proposed contract extension. The current contract calls for officers with at least 20 years on the force to get a $2,000-per-year retention bonus. The deal also allows officers to take at least 12 weeks of parental leave by using the current contract’s medical leave benefits, officials said.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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