Chicago Police Negotiations Ratchet Up Even One More Notch

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields may be riding high after working to torpedo a four-year contract tied to pension reform that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had hoped to use as a roadmap to solve the city’s pension crisis.

But leave it to Emanuel to send the outspoken FOP president crashing back down to earth.

Emanuel is playing hardball, thanks to an embarrassing oversight Shields made last year, flatly denied but now acknowledged by his own corrective action.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that rank-and-file police officers may have to wait a year to negotiate a new contract — and forgo a retroactive pay increase in 2012 — because Shields failed to notify the city between Feb. 1 and March 1 of last year that he intended to terminate the police contract and commence negotiations on a new agreement.

If that notice is not given within the one-month window, the contract automatically rolls over for another year.

At the time, Shields insisted that his letter to the city was “well within the timeline” required by state law.

Two weeks ago, the FOP president essentially acknowledged his earlier mistake by sending the city the required notice to avoid having the old contract roll over for a second straight year.

That gave Emanuel an opening to declare that, as a result of Shields’ earlier mistake, the FOP has forfeited the retroactive pay raise that has long been an automatic part of any union contract.

That doesn’t necessarily mean rank-and-file police officers will be forced to swallow a one-year pay freeze. It simply means if Chicago Police officers want a pay raise retroactive to June 30, 2012, the date their old contract expired, they’ll have to give up something to get it. It will not be automatic.

“He screwed himself so badly that, when the deadline came up again, he was in a box. If he sends the letter [by March 1], he acknowledges he was wrong before. If he doesn’t, he’s two years in the hole,” said a mayoral confidante who asked to remain anonymous.

“Before, [the retro raise] was automatic. Now, it’s not. It’s not about canceling it or not. It doesn’t exist. State law and the contract are both very clear about this process and what it means. If they had done it properly, we would have been legally obligated to include this in the contract. Now, because the FOP messed this up, it gets thrown into the mix like everything else.”

Shields accused the mayor of retaliating against him for his role in sabotaging the vote of the sergeants, who are part of a separate union.

“The City of Chicago took a shot at the police with its ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy. It failed miserably. The issue is revenge one day after the mayor got a black eye. … If the city had included the FOP in negotiations that affect its active members and retirees, maybe we would not be in this position,” Shields said Tuesday in a statement emailed to the Sun-Times.

“If the Mayor wants to play a game and deny a yearly raise to 10,000 people over a letter that means nothing, we will fight. … Last March, the city told the FOP that it would negotiate with our bargaining unit out of its ‘deep respect’ for the men and women of the Chicago Police Department. If the mayor really respects us, he would sit down and negotiate with us. They know we are covered by the Illinois Public Employees Labor Relations Act, and the whole letter issue is bogus.”

In letters to the city dated Feb. 20 and 27, Shields and his attorney Joe Burns argued that “economic changes” to the police contract have been retroactive “in many prior contract negotiations” and that City Hall should continue “this historical practice.”

The FOP further argued that Emanuel’s decision to hold numerous negotiating sessions with the police union over the last year means the city “waived its position that the agreement continued in effect until June 30, 2013.” To argue otherwise would “constitute unfair labor practices,” the union warned.

On March 4, the city’s chief labor negotiator Jim Franczek flatly declared that there has been “no waiver” of the city’s position.

“We are prepared to sit down and negotiate in good faith … for a successor agreement, the terms of which — inclusive of both economic and operational subjects — shall have an effective date of no earlier than July 1, 2013,” Franczek wrote.

Shields has been a constant thorn in Emanuel’s side.

He has waged a nonstop campaign to bolster police hiring. He has also demanded a 12 percent pay raise over two years, a reduction in health care contributions and a $3,000-a-year residency stipend to compensate rank-and-file police officers for being forced to live and send their kids to school in the city.

Shields was also a driving force behind the sergeants’ resounding rejection of Emanuel’s blueprint for pension reform.

By a nearly 7-1 ratio, the sergeants on Monday rejected a deal that would have given them a 9 percent pay raise over four years in exchange for: raising the retirement age for sergeants to 53; increasing employee pension contributions, and accepting other changes to their benefits.

In a Feb. 15 letter to sergeants, Shields had urged them to reject the contract on grounds that it unfairly allowed a union with just 1,178 members to “drastically lower the income” of 25,000 active members, retirees and widows served by the police pension fund.

“It’s not a failure. Being honest is never a failure. Today’s system is not honest. It’s not honest to the taxpayers, and it’s not honest to the employees who are paying into it because they will not see the benefit,” Emanuel said Tuesday of the stinging defeat.

“Putting your head in the sand doesn’t mean it goes away. What I appreciated about [Sergeants Association President Jim] Ade is he showed the leadership to deal with it. Others have decided denial is a long-term strategy. That doesn’t work. And every aspect of this plan — every aspect of what I think is retirement security — will be part of any final solution. And that may have to be where we go do it and work on it — in Springfield.”

By forcing rank-and-file police officers to pay a price for Shields’ mistake — either by canceling their retroactive pay raise or requiring the union to give up something to get it back — the mayor could severely damage the FOP president’s chances of being re-elected next spring.

The Emanuel confidante insisted that getting rid of Shields was not the mayor’s intent.

“We’re not trying to do anything. Whoever a bargaining unit elects as their representative, we’re gonna meet with them. We don’t pre-determine who would be the right person to negotiate with,” the source said.

“The mayor has shown that whether it’s someone who was supportive of him in the past or not, we’ll sit down with anyone to try to work out a deal that’s good for taxpayers. Look at the Laborers, who supported his opponent. It doesn’t matter. We’re looking for partners.”

From The Chicago Sun-Times

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