Chicago, IL

Mayor Brandon Johnson Seeks Unusual Split of Chicago Police Union Contract

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

An unprecedented move to address disciplinary provisions

Mayor Brandon Johnson has taken a bold step in an attempt to reshape the landscape of police contracts in Chicago. This decision could potentially mark his first significant labor dispute since taking office. The Mayor is seeking to divide a proposed new contract with the Chicago police union into two separate City Council votes. This move is aimed at addressing a key concern related to private disciplinary hearings for police officers.

Notably, this decision was not disclosed when the new agreement with the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) was initially announced. It has the potential to ignite a protracted legal battle between the city and the police union, with FOP's president expressing readiness to go to court if necessary.

Mayor Johnson, known for his progressive stance, unveiled a pending contract that promises a substantial 20% pay raise for police officers. However, he expressed deep disappointment over a labor arbitrator's ruling that would allow serious disciplinary cases to be heard by an independent third party behind closed doors, as opposed to being held publicly before the Chicago Police Board.

In response to these concerns, Mayor Johnson has called upon the City Council to reject this particular provision when it comes up for a vote in the coming weeks. He and his team have made it clear that the contract will be split into two items: one encompassing the economic aspects and the consent decree and the other focusing on the disciplinary measures.

The Mayor's stance is grounded in a commitment to transparency and accountability in handling disciplinary cases. While recognizing police officers' right to arbitration, he insists on a process that ensures public transparency and genuine accountability, emphasizing the importance of advancing reform and enhancing public safety.

John Catanzara, president of FOP Lodge 7, responded by expressing confidence in the arbitrator's ruling, stating that it is protected by labor law. He argued that police officers are simply seeking what is afforded to others in terms of arbitration for termination cases.

If the City Council votes down the disciplinary provision, the FOP intends to return to arbitration with the city. However, if the agreement is voted down again, it could lead to a legal battle between the city and the union.

Traditionally, collective bargaining agreements require an up-or-down vote from the City Council. Mayor Johnson's decision to separate the economic aspects from the disciplinary measures is seen as an unusual approach by labor experts, as it departs from the customary practice of negotiating agreements as a single package.

The last FOP contract was approved in 2021 under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, providing officers with a 20% raise over eight years. However, a contentious issue arose this summer when an independent arbitrator granted police officers the option to have their serious disciplinary cases decided by a third party, rather than the Chicago Police Board.

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Chicago, IL

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