The clock runs out on Chicago’s Police Department and Fire Department union contracts Saturday night, but don’t expect any difference in how cops and firefighters respond to emergencies around the city if the deal remains unresolved.
Both unions are prohibited from striking, and it’s not unusual for contract talks to drag on past the “drop dead” date as the two groups haggle with the city over salaries, incentives and contract minutiae.
If history is any indicator, it could be years before a new contract is in place. Last time around, police and fire deals that expired in 2007 weren’t replaced with new ones until 2010. Cops and firefighters worked under the terms of their old deals until new ones were worked out, and the same will happen this time when agreements aren’t reached by Saturday night.
The delays can leave city bean counters with sticker shock, however.
The 2010 accords, for instance, forced Mayor Richard Daley’s administration to come up with about $160 million to cover back pay increases for police dating to July 2007, and more than $80 million more for retroactive raises for rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics. The city borrowed the money.
The last contracts were set only after an independent arbitrator ruled on a pact for police that set an average of 2 percent raises for five years, dating back to the June 2007 end of that contract. The firefighters union then agreed to the same deal.
This is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first shot at negotiating with the two public safety unions, and he hasn’t been shy about questioning how the city operates even in such politically protected departments as fire and police.
“Safety will be paramount. Savings will also be an issue, and change will be an issue because you cannot say technology hasn’t changed and made us all better and smarter at doing what we need to do,” the mayor said in February while discussing the upcoming Fire Department contract talks.
One alderman, who did not want his name used while negotiations are ongoing, said Daley seemed more willing to spend city money in the short term to keep the peace with unions. With city finances now hurting, Emanuel is forced to take a harder line.
“The money just isn’t there,” the alderman said. “I’m sure (the police and fire unions) would like to maintain things, but look around — there are cuts being made all over the place.”
Citing a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the city not to negotiate in public, Fraternal Order of Police President Michael Shields declined to discuss the status of talks on a new deal.
Firefighters union President Tom Ryan also would not talk about specifics. In a letter to union members in May, Ryan termed the city’s offer “horrendous,” “insulting” and “ridiculous.”
He detailed several pay bumps for things like training and a clothing allowance that he said the city was aiming to do away with in the next contract, along with firehouse staffing cuts that he said Emanuel hopes to make.
“This looks to be a long and bitter battle,” Ryan said in the letter.
Ryan emailed the following statement when asked about the current status of talks and the Saturday end to the union’s contract: “Negotiations take time and we hope the city comes back to us with some realistic requests, but under no circumstances will our service to the city of Chicago be interrupted or affected by this negotiation process.”