City, Chicago police union back to bargaining table to nail down rest of police contract

The city’s lead negotiator is the one former Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired for doing a lengthy interview on a Chicago Sun-Times podcast where he essentially endorsed Paul Vallas over Brandon Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff.

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Chicago City Hall.

Chicago’s City Hall

Sun-Times file

After a pair of defeats at the bargaining table, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration is trying to settle unresolved portions of the police contract at the bargaining table.

And in a surprise twist, the city’s lead negotiator is Jim Franczek, fired by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in March after doing a lengthy interview on a Chicago Sun-Times podcast where he essentially endorsed Paul Vallas over Brandon Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff.

Franczek’s return to the chief labor negotiator’s job he has held under five mayors was reported by Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara in the same YouTube update to the troops that informed the rank-and-file of the apparent progress at the bargaining table.

Earlier this month, independent arbitrator Edwin H. Benn delivered a ruling Johnson called a “major setback” for police reform.

The ruling will allow police officers accused of the most serious wrongdoing — and recommended for firings or suspensions longer than a year — to bypass the board and take their cases to an independent arbitrator, who might be more sympathetic to their arguments.

That will not only turn at least a portion of the disciplinary process on its ear. It will deprive the Chicago Police Board of one of its most powerful tools. The board’s nominees are recommended by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability and chosen by the mayor.

On the heels of that and a lesser defeat, the city has apparently decided not to roll the dice with Benn, who has handed down multiple rulings over the years involving disciplinary cases against Chicago Police Department officers, as well as firefighters, and also ruled on police and fire contracts that could not be hammered out at the bargaining table.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara walks with a supporter into his police board hearing in November 2021.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara (foreground) says the union and the city are back to bargaining.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In the YouTube video posted Sunday, Catanzara said Benn promised to provide “some guidelines about what he was thinking about the rest of the proposals that were left from both sides” after economic portions of the police contract were resolved two years ago. But Benn also told the city and the union they were “probably better off addressed somewhere else other than the interest arbitration process.”

“That triggered a conversation with myself and the lead attorney for the city, Jim Franczek. And we just simply had a meeting of the minds knowing where the arbitrator let us know he was. And if anything was going to get accomplished, it was going to be by agreement. So we really need to get serious about trying to have some conversations in depth about getting this contract finished up, even outside of the interest arbitration process. That’s where we are at now,” Catanzara told his members.

“The city and us had two conversations last week on Wednesday and Thursday,” he said. “They were extremely productive. Proposals were discussed. Solutions about trying to put a lot of this behind us and move on forward about the rest of the things down the road. I’m pretty hopeful that we can continue down this path and get a resolution outside of interest arbitration for most of it and let arbitrator Benn decide a handful of issues from there. Stay tuned.”

In September 2021, Chicago Police officers ratified a new contract with a 20% raise over eight years, more than half of it retroactive.

Although the contract included what both sides called “core accountability issues,” more controversial disciplinary changes were left to be negotiated or decided in arbitration. Those issues are apparently what Catanzara and Franczek are now trying to hammer out.

Franczek refused to comment on the return to the bargaining table or the prospects for an agreement. But as for his comeback as the city’s chief labor negotiator, Franczek said Johnson has been “very gracious, very generous. I think he appreciates that I bring a value to the city and a value to helping him with these negotiations.”

He was fired by Lightfoot in March without explanation, but sources told the Sun-Times his podcast interview was the reason.

Jim Franczek (left) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Jim Franczek (left) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Sun-Times files

It was not known what about the Sun-Times interview angered Lightfoot to the point where she would abruptly end a relationship between Franczek and the city that has lasted nearly 40 years and delivered countless contracts between the city and its police officers, firefighters, public school teachers and building trade unions.

During the interview, Franczek portrayed Vallas as the “clear choice” for mayor of Chicago and expressed grave concerns about Johnson’s role as a paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.

Franczek sat on the other side of the bargaining table when Vallas was serving as an unpaid adviser to the FOP, helping deliver the eight-year contract that ended the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history. If not for Vallas’ powers of persuasion, Franczek claimed, the contract would not have included all of the “core police accountability provisions” demanded by City Council members and the consent decree outlining terms of federal court oversight of the police department.

Johnson was somehow able to ignore the Vallas endorsement and retain Franczek — at least for a while.

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