CHICAGO (CN) — The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police's controversial chief announced Wednesday night that officers' union dues would soon be going up.
FOP President John Catanzara, who previously voiced an intention to run for the Chicago mayorship in 2023, said the anticipated $240 annual dues increase was specifically meant to raise money for police-friendly political action.
Catanzara said the raised money would be used to shore up the FOP's PAC fund by up to $2.5 million per year.
"I can guarantee you a $2.5 million a year dedicated fund is going to really get some attention and movement," he told union members in a Wednesday night YouTube video.
Catanzara and other national conservative figures have repeatedly said that U.S. police are under attack in the current political climate. The news of increased police union dues came only hours after the Illinois State Police announced the arrest of a 26-year-old Chicago social justice activist on Wednesday morning. The arrested activist allegedly tore down a photo of deceased Chicago police officer Ella French from a police memorial in August 2021. State police charged her with felony destruction of property for the alleged act.
"Our profession is not going to stop from being under attack anytime soon. We need to let these politicians know that enough is enough," Catanzara said, while also calling the FOP's political coffers "woefully underfunded."
Despite the union president's claims of a lack of funding, many municipal police budgets - including Chicago's - have actually increased since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. The Chicago Police Department's own budget went up by $200 million from 2021 to 2022, for a total operating budget of about $1.9 billion. This makes the CPD the second-wealthiest police force in the U.S. after New York City's NYPD.
Regardless, the Chicago FOP has repeatedly called Chicago and Illinois politics corrupt, with Catanzara saying the state and city are "as crooked as can possibly be." The FOP is still in the midst of its own political battle with City Hall over Chicago's Covid-19 vaccine mandate for municipal employees, including police. The FOP claims the mandate violates local police unions' collective bargaining agreements with the city. There is currently a court injunction on the mandate as it applies to police pending the result of ongoing labor arbitration.
On the FOP's social media pages, union members' reaction to the news of increased dues was mixed. While some supported the move as a way to improve local police officers' image and legal protections, others bemoaned what they saw as a frivolous waste of FOP members' dues.
"Yes let's give more money in order to lobby Illinois politicians who we all know don't give a sh*t about us and continually pass laws that are not in our best interest," FOP member Johnathan Matich wrote on the union's Facebook page. "Good idea."
Chicago professional labor organizer Lizzy Bortoto also expressed concern for the announcement. She said that unilaterally establishing a pro-police PAC fund with members' dues as Catanzara outlined seems like a legally questionable plan. She explained that other labor unions in Illinois, such as the Service Employees' International Union, have dedicated political education and activism PACs that members can contribute to on a purely optional basis.
"[SEIU] has a committee called COPE - Committee on Political Education," Bortoto said. "Donating to COPE, it's optional... it's absolutely not mandatory. So I don't know how [the FOP] is going to do that."
The FOP's plan may be protected legally by the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which gave unions the green light to spend money from their general funds to influence federal elections through "independent expenditures or electioneering communications." Per Catanzara's announcement, the FOP's board of directors will directly transfer the political money raised by the increased dues from the FOP's general membership fund to its PAC fund.
Legal questions aside, though, Bortoto also criticized the FOP plan as highly undemocratic.
"There are some members who absolutely do not align politically with the local," Bortoto said. "So you can't have a local president who says, 'We're going to give some campaign a million dollars.' It has to be more democratic."
Her sentiment was shared by at least some FOP members responding to the announcement on the union's social media channels. One commenter threatened to stop donating to the city's police memorial fund over the news.
Bortoto also expressed concern over what political goals the FOP may have in wanting to raise $2.5 million for its PAC fund, compared to other local unions.
"I mean look at the Chicago Teachers Union. A ton of what they bargain for is for the common good," Bortoto said. "Reducing homelessness, getting nurses in schools... I think what the FOP wants is much more narrow and self-serving."
Her concern is echoed by labor historian Paul Clark, a professor at Penn State. In an article Clark wrote during the midst of the 2020 protest wave, he explained that there is a historical tension between police and labor unions' respective political goals. While labor unions exist to increase workers' collective power compared to management and business owners, he said, police often help protect the interests of the business-owning class itself.
"For many veterans of the labor movement, police have been on the wrong side of the centuries-old struggle between workers and employers. Rather than side with other members of the working class, police have used their legal authority to protect businesses and private property, enforcing laws viewed by many as anti-union," Clark wrote. "The strain between law enforcement and labor goes back to the origins of American unions in the mid 19th century... When workers managed to form unions, companies called on local police to disperse union gatherings, marches and picket lines, using violence and mass arrests to break the will of strikers."
Whatever the criticisms, Catanzara seemed adamant that he wanted to unseat politicians he sees as anti-police. He issued an ominous warning to his political opponents, and presumably the FOP's, at the end of his Wednesday video.
"For the politicians that are going to see this, we told you we're coming for your seats and I meant it," he said. "Whether it's Springfield or City Hall, change is coming. You were warned."
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