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Activists see opportunity in police contract negotiation reset

An activist group is demanding new ground rules for Louisville Metro’s ongoing negotiations with the city’s police union.

The two parties announced in August that they had reached a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, but rank-and-file officers overwhelmingly rejected that agreement last month. The tentative agreement included what the city and police union said was the largest one-time raise for officers in department history. 

But now that the police union’s members have rejected it, the contract will go back to the negotiating table. The parties will also have to agree to new ground rules for negotiating.

Activists with The 490 Project are demanding ground rules that, at the very least, include community observers. Nancy Cavalcante, an organizer with the group, said The 490 Project would also like to see community experts working alongside Metro Government representatives and the County Attorney’s Office on the mayor’s negotiating team.

“When the mayor promises transparency and accountability and then goes into closed-door sessions with no eyes and ears in that process, then we don’t have that,” Cavalcante said. “The benefit is having the community’s voice and not going to make decisions about reforms, about monies, about what’s in that contract without community presence.”

The 490 Project has advocated for serious reforms to the city’s collective bargaining agreement with police. They demanded the removal of a ‘no layoffs’ clause and for supervisors’ notes about an officer’s performance and conduct to be part of their permanent record.

Cara Tobe, an activist with The 490 Project, said it’s hard for the public to have any real say without having a community advocate in the room during negotiations. By the time a contract is made public, Metro Council’s only options are to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on it.

“It’s difficult by design,” Tobe said. “If the community only has a small say, then how much power does the community really have over things that harm the community and things that nobody really is asking for?”

Despite widespread calls for greater transparency in city government, Mayor Greg Fischer signed off on ground rules in January that kept negotiations closed. Those rules barred outside observers, and prevented the city and police union, the River City FOP Lodge 614, from speaking to the public or media until after negotiations ended.

That’s another change The 490 Project wants: allowing the parties involved in the negotiation to speak publicly. 

On Friday, activists with The 490 Project livestreamed their attempt to deliver a petition outlining their demands to Fischer. They requested to speak with Fischer directly, but were told they couldn’t do so without an appointment. Activists left the petition, which was signed by nearly 500 people, with the mayor’s receptionist. 

Jessica Wethington, a spokesperson for Fischer, said Monday they appreciated The 490 Project’s continued input.

“As we have said before, opening negotiations to the public requires thoughtful consideration, planning and timing,” she said.

Asked where the new round of negotiations stands, Wethington would only say the city is working with the union's lawyers on next steps. After rank-and-file police officers rejected the tentative deal, Fischer said his team would “take some time to hear police and community input.”

The police union did not respond to requests for comment.

Activists such as Tobe say the process needs more transparency and representation in order to get a police union contract that both rank-and-file officers and the public will accept.

“Obviously the results that we are getting aren’t what anybody wants,” she said. “It isn’t successful and it isn’t providing the change that we desperately need, so we have to do something different.”

While the tentative collective bargaining agreement for officers is heading back for another round of negotiations, roughly 85% of lieutenants and captains voted to approve their separately-negotiated contract. The Metro Council Clerk’s Office said Monday the lieutenants and captains contract has been filed as new business, meaning a council committee could discuss it as soon as next week.

This story has been updated with comment from a Metro spokesperson on the status of contract negotiations.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.