By Associated Press - Wednesday, October 14, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia police officers’ union is suing the city to try to block an ordinance requiring a public hearing on the city’s police contract proposal from going into effect.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Tuesday, saying the ordinance, which was passed last month by Philadelphia City Council, is pre-empted by a 1968 law that governs the contract and arbitration process between police and fire unions and public employers. Union leaders said when the ordinance passed and reiterated Wednesday that the ordinance targets the police union by not requiring any other public employees union to hold the same hearings.

“This is an attempt by City Council to once-again demonize and target hardworking Philadelphia police officers and FOP leadership,” FOP Lodge 5 President, John McNesby wrote in an emailed statement.

The ordinance passed by the council requires a public hearing to be held 30 days before a contract proposal is officially presented to the police union, which represents about 6,500 members. It allows for public comment on the initial proposal before it is submitted.

The public wouldn’t get a chance to comment on the final contract proposals, but the bill stipulates that the city report back to the council on how public comment was incorporated. Negotiations are ultimately decided by a mediator during the arbitration process, which is defined by state labor laws.

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who filed the original bill to require public input, said Wednesday that she was confident the ordinance would stand up to legal scrutiny.

“I reached out regularly to the FOP and its lawyers to discuss any questions or concerns. I am confident that this bill is lawful,” Gilmore Richardson wrote in an emailed statement. “This bill creates transparency and accountability for the people of Philadelphia. It is a shame the FOP wants to block a process that will help build trust and confidence, and therefore, improve police/community relations in the City of Philadelphia.”

In the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality after the death of George Floyd, Philadelphia officials, including Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney, released a list of a few dozen changes to officer conduct codes, policing procedure and disciplinary transparency that they had hoped to work on, some with help needed from the council and others requiring the Legislature’s approval.

Officials cited the union contract and negotiations process, which has been traditionally closed to the public, as a hurdle in some cases to making those changes, especially in disciplinary matters.

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