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Louisville’s negotiations with police union will remain closed to the public

Two Louisville Metro police cars are parked under an overpass.
Michelle Hanks
Members of the Greenberg administration said they believe the union negotiation process remains transparent despite not being open to the public.

Despite promises of greater transparency, Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration has agreed to keep contract negotiations between the city and its police union closed.

LPM News obtained a copy of the negotiation ground rules signed by the chief negotiators for the city and the River City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 614 over the weekend. The ground rules state that “all negotiation sessions shall be closed to the press and public.” The collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the two parties dictate things like officer pay, discipline and how complaints against officers are handled.

The 490 Project, a local police accountability group, has for years pushed the city to open collective bargaining negotiations. Cara Tobe, a member of the 490 Project, said she was disappointed with the recent developments.

“Things have happened behind closed doors in the past where all of a sudden the FOP is getting more and more from our city, and the community doesn’t want those things,” Tobe said. “We don’t get a chance to be part of the conversation at all.”

Advocates point to San Antonio, Texas, where all contract negotiations are live streamed, or Florida, where collective bargaining for state employees is open to the public.

Members of the 490 Project met with city officials before the ground rules were signed. They advocated for open negotiations, as well as including a community member who had been impacted by police misconduct in the talks.

In a recording of a Feb. 27 meeting between the 490 Project and members of the mayor’s administration, Greenberg Chief of Staff David Kaplan said the agreed upon ground rules for the upcoming negotiations are “substantially the same, if not exactly the same” as those negotiated by previous Mayor Greg Fischer in 2020.

Kaplan said it's the administration's first time at the bargaining table with the police union and expressed concerns about open negotiations.

“It could extend the process,” he said. “It could engender strong resistance from the [police union], which I think is something that we would have to anticipate, the impact of kicking off the negotiations with a dispute.”

Police union Press Secretary Dave Mutchler did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

During the meeting, Kaplan also said making negotiations public would impact the bargaining process with the dozens of other unions representing city employees. Louisville Metro currently has contracts with 21 separate bargaining units, including zoo employees, electricians and corrections officers.

Members of the 490 Project, however, dismissed those concerns. Tobe said the ground rules they are advocating around are specific to the police union.

“If one local [union] decides to do it one way, and they agree upon it with the city, it’s not like it’s copy-and-paste for every single negotiation that the city is going to have,” she said.

Both the city and the police union had to agree to ground rules before formal negotiations could begin. It’s unclear when the city and the police union will come to the table to begin hammering out a contract.

The request by members of the 490 Project to have a resident representative in negotiations also appears unlikely to happen. While the group contends there’s nothing in state or local law preventing the city from doing so, Kaplan told them he believes the law only makes provisions for city employees to be present.

Kaplan said the Greenberg administration plans to be open to feedback from residents and community groups during the process.

“That’s what we can do for you right now,” he said. “That’s going to be what happens in this negotiation.”

In a statement earlier this month, Greenberg spokesperson Kevin Trager said the concerns of the 490 Project and other groups were shared with the mayor and the city’s negotiating team.

“We negotiate contracts with 21 different unions representing Metro Government employees,” he said. “While those negotiations are historically not open to the public, we always welcome community input on best practices for labor negotiations.”

While campaigning for mayor last year, Greenberg repeatedly spoke about the need to make local government more transparent.

In his inauguration speech last month, he told residents he also expects them to hold him accountable.

“We will improve transparency, collaboration and accountability – at LMPD and throughout all of Metro Government – and that starts with me,” Greenberg said.

Tobe said Tuesday it’s difficult to square Greenberg’s past statements with his decision not to push for open negotiations with the police union.

“It’s really disappointing to hear that the mayor’s administration isn’t going to take us in this ‘new direction’ and even just try to have a conversation [with the union] around this topic,” she said.

Members of the Greenberg administration said they believe the process remains transparent.

Once the FOP and the city reach a final agreement, the contract will go to Metro Council. A majority of the 26-member body will have to vote to approve the collective bargaining agreement for it to take effect. Alternatively, they could reject the contract and send negotiators back to the drawing board.

“This is a transparent process because at the end of the process, collective bargaining, an agreement is reached and it's completely public,” Kaplan said during the meeting with 490 Project members.

The last time the police union contract was up for a vote, in September 2021, Metro Council held two public comment sessions to hear feedback from residents. Council members ultimately approved the agreement in a 20-3 vote.

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

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