Mayor Lori Lightfoot Thursday said she “understands the frustration” of Chicago police officers who have waited 2 1/2 years for a new contract, but questioned whether the Fraternal Order of Police can take its demand for an 18% pay raise over three years to arbitration.
“I don’t actually think that they can actually go to arbitration, given the procedural posture of matters,” the mayor said.
“There’s a procedural issue that has to happen before they can actually go to arbitration. And I don’t believe — there’s no arbitrable issues yet because the discussions haven’t progressed to that point.”
FOP President Kevin Graham could not be reached for comment on the mayor’s claim.
Earlier this week, he told the Chicago Sun-Times that the union had “gotten nowhere” at the bargaining table and exhausted all legal steps necessary to justify the FOP board’s vote to put its demand for a three-year contract with an 18% pay raise in the hands of an independent arbitrator.
With his own union election just over four months away, Graham accused Lightfoot of “stalling” negotiations with a union with whom she has clashed repeatedly. He also accused the mayor of violating the old contract right and left with respect to such issues as days off, scheduling and body cameras.
On Thursday, the mayor got a chance to respond during a news conference on cold weather preparedness at the city’s 911 emergency center.
She flatly denied the FOP’s “stalling” charge and said she will “get to them” once the arbitration process with police supervisors is completed. The supervisors contract is typically negotiated first, the mayor said.
“As soon as that’s finished, we will get to FOP next. And they’re aware of that. We’ve been engaged with them all along. So, there’s no surprises or hold cards here,” the mayor said.
“But I understand the frustration because the contract has been expired for a number of years. I’d like to see us get to a sequence where we start discussions on contracts before they expire — not only after they expire.”
Lightfoot was asked to respond to the FOP’s demand for an 18% pay raise over three years.
“They can make whatever claim that they want. But we’re gonna do what’s necessary and right for the officers, but also for the taxpayers. But we’re gonna do that at the bargaining table — not in the press,” she said.
Lightfoot agreed to pay striking teachers 16% over five years with staffing increases and other perks that pushed the overall price tag to $1.5 billion amid concern that would become the floor for police officers and firefighters.
The mayor said it’s no surprise that Graham is getting more vocal in the run-up to his own election in February.
“Keep in mind, FOP leadership is having an election some time in the first quarter of next year. So, there’s gonna be all sorts of things that happen that may or may not deal with the substance of conditions at the bargaining table,” she said.
“We’ll get to them…I’ve said all along — and I’ve said it to the president of FOP — that we do want to get things moved along as expeditiously as we can. And we are starting the process of engagement.”
Lightfoot’s decision to hold her fire on the police union’s demands marks a sharp departure.
Until now, she has had harsh words for the FOP at almost every turn.
Shortly after taking office, the mayor repeated during a cable TV interview an admittedly “unsubstantiated rumor” she claims to have heard from a “credible” source: that the FOP had told members to “lay back” and “do nothing” over Memorial Day weekend.
She told a high-ranking FOP official on the floor of the City Council that Graham is a “Dr. No” standing in the way of police reform.
When the FOP’s second vice-president Patrick Murray returned to the City Council floor a month later, Lightfoot was heard on an open mic calling Murray “this FOP clown.”
The police contract expired on June 30, 2017, but former Mayor Rahm Emanuel made no effort to negotiate a new one. Instead, he punted the hot potato to Lightfoot, whom he twice appointed Police Board president.
Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability that demanded changes to the police contract. Its scathing report pointed to a police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires sworn affidavits.
Graham has slammed the door on all of those changes.