Kadner: Trying to restore the image of FOP
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 6, 2014 8:30PM
Acting Fraternal Order of Police President Bill Dougherty | Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2014 6:25AM
“Chicago’s willing to spend $91 million in one year to create new bicycle lanes but doesn’t have the money to maintain police cars or computers.”
Those words spoken by Bill Dougherty, acting president of the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, are as close as he will come to sounding confrontational during an hourlong interview at his Mount Greenwood home.
A spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation disputed Dougherty’s figures on Friday.
“I’ve not seen a figure even close to that before,” CDOT spokesman Pete Scales said in an email. “In fact, the city spent only $2.7 million in 2013 on bike lane development projects. That’s for the planning and engineering of 40 miles of new protected bike lanes, 20 miles of which were put in place before the start of the winter. The remaining 20 miles will be done first thing this spring after the snow is gone.”
Dougherty, who bears a resemblance to the actor who played Capt. Donald Cragen on the TV series “Law & Order SVU,” is running for president of the union in a March election.
In the meantime he’s trying to “heal wounds” suffered from a period of internal union turmoil that made newspaper headlines.
Beleaguered FOP President Michael K. Shields was notified he was being suspended by the state FOP leadership during a union membership meeting in December, during which his five field representatives walked off the stage to illustrate their desire that he resign.
That event came two days after Shields claimed the last two police contracts involving an independent arbitrator were “fixed” in the city’s favor by union leaders who included then-1st vice president Dougherty.
But prior to that Shields had been publicly humiliated by revelations that he had failed to notify the city that he intended to terminate an old contract and negotiate a new one.
The result: The contract rolled over for another year and unionized officers didn’t automatically receive a retroactive pay raise for the year after the contract expired.
The new FOP leadership team, headed by Dougherty, still is trying to get that retroactive pay raise during negotiations with the city that have lingered for nearly 18 months.
“Contract negotiations are at a point where we’ve resolved some of the discipline and seniority issues,” Dougherty said Thursday.
“Where we are at a stalemate is wages and health insurance. We have several meetings with the city coming up in February. We hope that the city is going to show up at these meetings with a fair offer for the men and women of our department.
“If not, we will wind up in arbitration as we have many times.”
I asked Dougherty if he was ready to call for arbitration, and he said he would like to see “if the city offers a reasonable deal” first.
But it sounded like the two sides remained far apart on wages and health insurance for retirees.
Police officers between the ages of 55 and 64 who retired used to get their health insurance paid for by the city until they reached Medicare eligibility.
Starting last month, they were phased into the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, to save the city money.
“I understand the city needs to save money and Obamacare may turn out to be a good option,” Dougherty said.
“But right now, we don’t know what the future of Obamacare will be. It could disappear in a couple of years and our retirees will be left without health insurance coverage.
“We would just like some time to see how this plays out. The additional cost to our retirees is about $400 a month, and that’s not something they planned for.”
FOP Lodge 7, the largest Fraternal Order of Police chapter in the nation, has about 17,000 members. According to Dougherty, that number includes 5,900 retirees and 365 disabled police officers.
Dougherty, 53, was elected 1st vice president of FOP Lodge 7 in 2002 and re-elected in 2005, 2008 and 2011.
He originally joined the department in 1987 and recently was sent back to working the streets in a patrol car following a confrontation with union boss Shields.
“I drove a patrol car for a few weeks in the 22nd (Morgan Park) District,” Dougherty said with a laugh.
“I actually enjoyed it. I was home by 2:30 each afternoon and got to spend time with the kids.”
Part of his duties as 1st vice president have been to be available 24 hours a day if a police officer is involved in a shooting.
“I think the rank and file knows me and respects me because I’ve been out there representing them if they fire a weapon in the line of duty, or if they have any questions about insurance,” he said.
“I’ve been the guy who answers every question about insurance for the officers. I returned every phone call.”
Dougherty denies any collusion to rig police contracts with city officials or the arbitrator in the past.
And one of his top priorities now is to restore the members’ faith in the integrity of their union.
“This union used to be respected nationwide,” Dougherty said. “I want to restore that reputation so we can be proud of our union.”
Other candidates vying for FOP president include Dean Angelo Sr., Carlos Cortes, Tom McDonagh and Scott Plebanski.
Dougherty grew up in St. Bede the Venerable Parish on Chicago’s Southwest Side, just across the border from Burbank.
His father was a Chicago firefighter, and his mother, who now lives with him, a homemaker.
He’s lived in the Mount Greenwood community, home to scores of Chicago firefighters and police officers, since 1996.
Asked to comment on a news report Thursday that the number of police officers on beats has dwindled, Dougherty said the union has been trying to rectify the situation but the city has resisted, instead asking police officers to work longer hours.
“Manpower on the police department is at an all-time low, and we need to improve that for the safety of the citizens and the officers,” Dougherty said.
“ ... I have my concerns about the hours (police officers) are working. Because of the long hours and not being able to get time off, they can become fatigued.
“The city is doing more with less. The city has a right to decide how to use its manpower, but at what price? Are they jeopardizing the safety of citizens and officers?
“I believe we can work together to resolve our differences.
“I believe I have the experience and leadership to get the union back on the right track. I’m willing to listen and that’s not something people have done in the recent past.”