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Chicago police officers put aside their anger at Lightfoot to ratify eight-year contract

Rank-and-file members of the Fraternal Order of Police ratified the new contract by a 79% vote.

Rank-and-file Chicago police officers on Friday ratified a new contract.
Rank-and-file Chicago police officers on Friday ratified a new contract.
Sun-Times file

Rank-and-file Chicago police officers on Friday rose above their anger at Mayor Lori Lightfoot and overwhelmingly ratified a new contract that guarantees them a 20% pay raise over eight years, more than half of it retroactive.

Cops have been venting their anger at Lightfoot ever since the Saturday night traffic stop in West Englewood that killed Officer Ella French and left her partner fighting for his life.

They turned their backs on Lightfoot on the seventh floor of University of Chicago Medical Center after the mayor ignored demands from the injured officer’s father to stay away and got a tongue lashing from him.

They’re furious at the mayor for defending First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter’s decision to speed up their solemn send-off to French when their slain colleague’s body was brought to the medical examiner’s office.

Even so, rank-and-file members of the Fraternal Order of Police who started voting before French was murdered ratified the new contract by a 79% vote, City Hall sources said.

It was the apparent lure of retroactive paychecks that will range from $18,000 to $36,000 depending on seniority, retroactive overtime pay that will add as much as 20% to that amount and duty availability back pay that means as much as $7,600 per officer.

“It was a fair deal. The membership realized it was a fair deal,” said FOP President John Catanzara.

“They hate her, but they’ve still got to go to work every day. They want a contract to work under. So, we’ll deal with the mayor in 18 months.”

Friday’s vote sets the stage for a similar ratification vote in the City Council.

If 26 aldermen sign off on the new deal, the city will be on the hook for $377.6 million for four years of back pay. That’s how long police officers have been waiting for a pay raise during what was the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history.

Lightfoot knew it was coming but nevertheless set aside just $103.3 million for back pay in her 2021 budget. The city plans to cover the rest by refinancing $1 billion in existing debt at reduced interest rates during the last quarter of this year. That’s expected to generate $232 million in savings.

The remaining $42.3 million will come from “corporate fund resources,” according to a three-year financial plan released this week that didn’t offer specifics.

Going forward, the city needs to come up with an additional $325 million to cover future costs of the contract. Even so, top mayoral aides have touted the contract for the “financial stability” it provides. It also guarantees labor peace until after the 2023 mayoral election.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall is not so sure about the financial stability claim. Using savings from a debt refinancing “prudently matches one-time revenues to a one-time expense,” but “taking the savings upfront” will force the city to “either cut or find new sources of revenue,” he said.

“We already have the highest sales tax of any major city in the United States. It’s not the time to be raising property taxes” beyond the $20 million automatic escalator tied to the consumer price index. “There are no easy taxes to raise. I think they’re gonna have to cut,” he said.

“Find ways to be more efficient. Reduce staff. Some of the lessons from the pandemic as to whether we need to have as many people performing these services. How can we deliver the services effectively at less of a cost?”

The contract calls for rank-and-file Chicago police officers to receive a 10.5% retroactive pay raise and 9.5% more through January 2025. The city has also agreed to increase so-called “duty availability pay” to $950 per quarter and raise the annual uniform allowance to $1,950.

Duty availability pay will be offered “retroactively” from July 2017 to all officers whose probation period has ended after 18 months. And going forward, duty availability pay will be available after 18 months, instead of after 42 months.

Rank-and-file police officers will be asked to absorb “only 50%” of the increase in health care contributions imposed on police sergeants and Chicago firefighters and paramedics. And the “second half” of that increase will be “postponed until July, 1, 2022, to allow members to retire under the current 2.2% at age 55 and zero percent for those 60 and over.”

Although the contract was four years in the making, the negotiations are not complete. Only “core accountability issues” have been resolved.

They include ending “the 40-year ban on the investigation of anonymous complaints about police misconduct;” expediting the override process that paves the way for those complaints; no longer allowing officers to change their stories after reviewing bodycam video of an incident; and eliminating a requirement that disciplinary records older than five years be destroyed.

More controversial disciplinary changes must still be negotiated and are likely to end up in arbitration.