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Tired of waiting for new contract, FOP puts demand for 18% pay raise over 3 years to arbitrator

FOP President Kevin Graham said he recommended arbitration to the FOP board after trying and failing to end a cold war with Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham thinks he can easily justify the union’s demand for an 18 percent pay raise over three years.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Fed up with the 2 1/2-year wait for a new contract, the Fraternal Order of Police board has voted to put their demand for an 18% pay raise over three years in the hands of an independent arbitrator.

With his own union election just over four months away, Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of “stalling” negotiations with a union with whom she has engaged in a cold war.

“We have gotten nowhere….City attorneys have come to the table and it has been the exact same thing. They are unwilling to negotiate any single item. They’ve offered us 10% over five years, but they offered the teachers 16” percent, Graham said.

“On top of which, they have changed start times. I negotiated those start times. I negotiated the day off groups. They are completely ignoring it. So I don’t think asking for what we are asking for is outrageous. What should be outrageous to the people of Chicago is why is the mayor allowing them to violate our contract and violate the rights of police officers when she wants to have honesty and transparency?”

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.

Those fears turned out to be wrong.

Rank-and-file police officers won’t be content with simply matching the teachers. Their union is demanding an 18% pay raise over three years.

“In this period where we’ve been without a contract, we’ve buried three of our members in the line-of-duty. That’s considerably different than other unions,” Graham said.

“I just came from a parole hearing where I had to look into the face of the son of a murdered police officer who talked about growing up without his father….One of the hardest days I’ve had was to return the wedding ring to Officer [Samuel] Jimenez’s wife. To see the look on her face was devastating.”

An email statement Wednesday from the mayor’s office said, “The administration continues to negotiate in good faith with the FOP so that we can reach an agreement that respects the important role our officers play in keeping our communities safe, as well as our taxpayers.”

Lightfoot’s newly-passed 2020 budget includes enough money for a 1.8% pay raise for rank-and-file police officers.

Still, Graham made no apologies for demanding 18% over three years from a city that’s staring down the barrel of a $1 billion pension cliff.

“We can justify everything that we have stated, including the fact that they are putting body cameras on everyone without an agreement with us. And that other towns are paying an extra two percent to officers for…wearing body cameras,” he said.

And why should the city pay a bounty to officers who wear a body camera when the consent decree requires it to improve accountability?

“How about if we hang a camera on every one of the aldermen [or] on news reporters so that we can see every single question?” Graham said. “…We can follow people into the bathroom. Do you think that’s right? I don’t. That’s a violation of their personal privacy. We’ve told them that they should be turning those cameras off at lunch time because they’re not being paid. The city has refused.”

From the very beginning of her four-year term, Lightfoot has alienated a police union that didn’t trust her to begin with, thanks to her days as Police Board president and co-chair of the Task Force on Police Accountability.

The first insult was the new mayor’s decision to choose retired U.S. Marshal Jim Smith to head a bodyguard detail that, for every other mayor, has been run by Chicago police officers.

Then came her decision to repeat publicly an admittedly “unsubstantiated rumor” she claims to have heard from a “credible” source: that the local FOP had instructed its members to “lay back” and “do nothing” over Memorial Day weekend.

The blame game continued with Lightfoot’s decision to mix it up with the FOP’s second vice-president Patrick Murray on the floor of the City Council in June. That was followed by an open mic embarrassment at another council meeting, also involving Murray.

Lightfoot was overheard telling her corporation counsel, “Back again. This is this FOP clown” as Murray rose during the public comment section.

Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability whose scathing report demanded changes in 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.

Although he pulled his punches with Lightfoot early on in hopes of breaking the contract stalemate, Graham has nothing to show for it. In February, he’ll have to explain that to a disappointed rank-and-file and ask for a second chance.

“I will say that we are going to arbitration and we are going to win,” he said.