Police Abuse

Will Big Labor Give the Boot to Police Unions? Be Skeptical.

Union leaders show very little interest in considering collective bargaining’s role in protecting bad cops.

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Since they grew into power in the second half of the 20th century, police unions have become a dominant force in politics, pushing for increased government spending on law enforcement and for the implementation of workplace policies that protect individual officers from the consequences of their misconduct.

The national protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd have caused more and more people to question of the wisdom of allowing police officers to form unions in the first place. After all, police unions don't just negotiate wages and represent officers in disciplinary hearings; they push for union contracts that protect officers from the consequences of bad behavior that would get any other class of worker fired or even thrown in prison. One study shows that while police unions may raise the wages of officers, they don't actually result in better policing or safer neighborhoods.

So now is the perfect time to get rid of police unions once and for all. But if you're looking for other labor unions to join the cause, think again.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit media outlet that investigates the influence of money in politics, attempted to interview the leaders of 10 major labor union groups in the aftermath of Floyd's killing, only to find silence. Time and time again, reporter Alexia Fernandez Campbell was told that those leaders didn't have time to talk to her.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has publicly condemned Floyd's killing, but he also still defends police unions and does not appear willing to consider ejecting them from his organization. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Trumka insisted that "collective bargaining is not the enemy."

But as Campbell notes in her reporting, and as Reason has noted repeatedly for years now, collective bargaining in the hands of public sector unions has, in fact, emerged as a big enemy of transparency and accountability. Collective bargaining has led to policies that purge personnel records of police misconduct after a certain amount of time; that require long waits before officers can be interviewed about misconduct allegations made against them; and that create lengthy appeals processes that end up putting cops who have been fired for bad behavior right back on the force.

It's not just the police who use union collective bargaining to shield themselves. The teachers unions do it, too. Indeed, it's almost impossible to fire bad teachers. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the teachers unions are are not terribly interested in addressing the role of collective bargaining in protecting bad cops.

Instead, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—the two top national education unions—support the types of police reforms congressional Democrats introduced yesterday. And many of those reforms are indeed good and should be supported, such as reforming qualified immunity; creating a national registry to keep track of officers fired for misconduct; banning police choke holds and limiting the use of no-knock raids; and requiring federal officers to wear body cameras.

But as Reason's C.J. Ciaramella noted yesterday in his report on the Democratic proposal, the measure won't mean much in practice if the police can't actually be held accountable and fired when they engage in misconduct. Remember that it took five years for New York City to hold Officer Leo Pantaleo responsible for killing Eric Garner. The city had to fight the police union every step of the way and now Pantaleo is suing (with union support) to get his job back.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO has called for the ouster of Lt. Bob Kroll, the president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, over his vocal defense of the officers involved in the Floyd arrest, as well as his description of people protesting police behavior as "terrorists" and his complaints that the city didn't let police crack down even more violently on protesters.

However, to call for Kroll's resignation suggests that his behavior is out of the ordinary for a police union leader—it isn't. His conduct is part of a lengthy history of police unions across the country attacking the public for criticizing or trying to reform police misconduct. Kroll's thuggish attitude is not an anomaly. The union built him this way. It is how police unions behave—the problem is always the public, never them.

At least one union is willing to rethink its ties to the police. The Writers Guild of America, East, which is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is now calling for the AFL-CIO to boot out the International Union of Police Associations, which represents more than 100,000 law enforcement officers. But outside of that, there is little evidence that organized labor is willing to grapple with the truly pernicious role that police unions wielding collective bargaining powers have played in letting law enforcement run roughshod over the rights of citizens.

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  1. Let’s try to steer this back to race, mmkay?

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    2. Jacob Frey’s willingness to be castrated on international television, exhibit A.

  2. No. That was easy.

  3. By the same logic, since corrupt politicians are so difficult to remove, we should ban government! Huzzah!

    Almost all issues with police unions could be reformed through specifying that union protections don’t apply in criminal matters, and there is already a push to have a national registry of abuse, not to mention holding cities accountable for signing these contracts in the first place.

    There is this supposition that only beat cops are corrupt and their supervisors are angels who have their hands tied, which simply isn’t so.

    What doesn’t get reported is situations like at the ADX where officers were forced to patrol in raw sewage without protective gear, and there wouldn’t have been any holding their supervisors to account except through the union.

    1. That doesn’t work. The union protections already don’t apply in criminal matters. The issue is that the police are allowed to turn what SHOULD be a criminal matter into an employee/employer dispute, handled through arbitration which can last for years, and often ends with a finding in the officer’s favor.

      It’s probably worth having an honest discussion about HOW these things are turned into arbitration matters, but from the optics, that seems to be a major issue.

      The second issue is that when things aren’t criminal matters, the officer is impossible to fire– because of the union protections. Officers should be able to be fired on the spot.

      There is this supposition that only beat cops are corrupt and their supervisors are angels who have their hands tied, which simply isn’t so.

      That is not a supposition. The supposition is that some cops are incompetent, or bad, or both, and their supervisors are cogs in a massive machine, of which the union is a major (and I do mean major) part. That’s why it took five years to fire the Eric Ganer cop.

      What doesn’t get reported is situations like at the ADX where officers were forced to patrol in raw sewage without protective gear, and there wouldn’t have been any holding their supervisors to account except through the union.

      These are all reasonable points of discussion. Believe you me, I live in ground zero for cops being made to do stupid bullshit based on the political whims of a corrupt city council. But making it easier to fire cops and have them forfeit their pensions when they act egregiously is a step in the right direction.

      1. “The second issue is that when things aren’t criminal matters, the officer is impossible to fire– because of the union protections. Officers should be able to be fired on the spot.”

        In the absence of unions, wouldn’t police demand civil service protection? If so, you’re back at the start.

        Plus one thing we have to watch for is making the profession of cop even more discouraging to go into. Respect for property and rule of law needs to be back with some level of law enforcement–even libertarians recognize that. And if we tell cops “every decision you make in a split second can and will be judged,” who wants to be a cop?

        1. And if we tell cops “every decision you make in a split second can and will be judged,” who wants to be a cop?

          non violent ones?

          1. Beautiful.

        2. Current cops show no respect for property (except to steal it as asset forfeiture) and rule of law (except for their employment contract).

          How could we be any worse off if cops feared losing their jobs and pensions for stealing and violating the law?

        3. “…every decision you make in a split second…”

          you mean like the 540 split seconds that Officer Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck?

        4. Respect for property is a consequence of armed private citizens. We should expand the scope of legal protections for citizens defending themselves *and their property*.

          The police have no duty to protect you. And policing, at least as it currently exists, does little to create respect for the rule of law (since police actions are frequently capricious, brutal, and biased). Your entire claim assumes facts not in evidence – that police increase respect for property and the law.

      2. Then change the language to potential criminal charges don’t have union protections.

        And I fully support the idea of citizen juries being able to dismiss ANY member of the judiciary, from cops to the DAs that protect them. Even judges that rubber stamp warrants.

        But this notion that getting rid of public sector unions reduces corruption is wholly misguided. It just changes the nature and direction of corruption taking place.

        1. But this notion that getting rid of public sector unions reduces corruption is wholly misguided.

          It’s not about any grand-total measure of corruption, or brutality, or anything else.

          It’s about individuals, and individual accountability and transparency.

          The unions stand foursquare against individual accountability and transparency. They will protect their own incompetents and bad actors tooth and nail, and they will do it because everyone pays dues. Their stand has to go.

          1. I would never be so naive to suggest that this is a simple, easily applied solution, but the union is very much an impediment to dealing with unruly cops.

            The issue at hand is that of course the cops will be provided with a union lawyer (or any lawyer) in the case of a criminal matter. But on simple incompetence, aggressive or overly violent behavior on the job forces a firing into arbitration that the state is compelled by law to engage in.

            Will there occasionally be unfair terminations? Of course there will be. Welcome to life, which is unfair for 98% of the people on the planet working in the private sector. Will they still be subject to the same civil protections that are available to me? Of course.

            The main issue here is that cops are notoriously difficult to prosecute. I don’t suspect that will ever magically go away. But in the absence of a prosecution, they’re impossibly difficult to dismiss. They shouldn’t be. They should be exactly as dismiss-able from their jobs as I am from mine.

    2. By the same logic, since corrupt politicians are so difficult to remove, we should ban government! Huzzah!

      Go on…I’m listening.

  4. All public sector unions should be eliminated. If I had a union, say OCAW, and gave money to the CEO of a major oil corporation in a quid pro quo for future wage and benefits we would all go to jail. RICO.
    If I am head of a public sector union, say SEIU, and use union money donated to the campaign of someone running for office in a quid pro quo for future wage and benefits that candidate gets elected and I am a hero to the union.
    Explains a lot about unaccountable government employees and impossible retirement plans.

    1. You’re absolutely right and with very sound reasoning!

      But police unions are the place to start and if not now then it will never happen.

  5. The bigger question is whether the Democrat pols who run most of our major cities are willing to tackle police unions. My guess is no, they won’t. They don’t even see it as a problem, most of them anyway. If Dem pols are pushing to eliminate police unions, only then will it matter what the AFL-CIO and the unions under its banner say about police unions. And my guess is they will stand with the police unions.

    1. The bigger question is whether the Democrat pols who run most of our major cities are willing to tackle police unions.

      The answer to that is ‘no’. Which is why they desperately want this to be about race.

      Making the union go away has a beginning, a middle and and end, with clear, definable goals and metrics.

      Making racism go away from America’s institutions is vague and impossible– therefore an endless spigot of cash and grift.

  6. https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/tyler-o-neil/2020/06/09/new-video-exposes-the-armed-antifa-militia-who-want-to-abolish-the-police-n511150

    The problem is that they don’t want to get rid of police unions. They want to get rid of the police altogether and then use these assholes to terrorize the public into submission.

    1. Don’t get too wrapped up in the rhetoric of “abolishing the xPD”. Trust me, the last thing these virtue-signalling twinks want is to abolish the police force.

      Seriously, think about it. Let Antifa run loose without a police force and see how well that goes for Antifa. They’ll hold a couple of square blocks in San Franciso, Portland and Seattle, and the rest of the country would be a no-go zone for them. You can’t be a democrat with fever dreams of cramming your stupid force-fed agenda down people’s throats and seriously believe you’re going to abolish the police.

      1. I would love there to be an open season on Antifa.

      2. Leftists aren’t rational, they’re psychotic.
        Some of the pols are less delusional, but still safe in their bubble

    2. those losers don’t realize they terrorize nobody.

  7. Never happen. Public unions are a reliable source of dues, and pretty high dues because of police officer salary rates. They’ll never kick out the police unions.

    It’s fund watching the ongoing political Left autophagy.

    1. fun, too!

  8. Big Labor will never give the boot to any group that pays dues.

  9. Government employee unions have conspired with politicians and bureaucrats to transform government employ from an exchange of public service for a very secure lower middle class job into an irrevocable title into a petty aristocracy with a license to plunder and abuse we who were once citizens as plain serfs. Police have benefited more and are more protected by this transformation than almost any other government employees. Police are also the enforcers of the plunder and abuse for themselves and the rest of the government employee’s petty aristocracy.

    Money, leisure, and power the Government Class is looking very like the old aristocracy, and We the People their serfs.

    1. why do cops have a union? WHY DOES ANY PUBLIC SECTOR WORKER HAVE A UNION? teachers, cops, fire, prison guards, state employees…WHEN HAS THEIR JOB EVER BEEN SO MISERABLE THAT THEY NEED A UNION TO RUN INTERFERENCE FOR THEM.

    2. VERY well stated

  10. Police unions should have to ‘collectively bargain’ with their true employers, the taxpayers. Require each union contract to be approved by the voters, see if that has any effect.

    1. Problem is, what happens if the voters reject the contract? The police would make it clear they won’t work without a contract, and the old contract expires soon. There is no way to get the public involved directly, another election would take time, and they’d just keep presenting the same contract over and over.

  11. Time and time again, reporter Alexia Fernandez Campbell was told that those leaders didn’t have time to talk to her.

    Did she try showing up with a peaceful, diverse crowd of protesters?

  12. sure ’til nobody’s looking … so like four minutes.

  13. Yes, unions exist to protect the bad workers as well as the good and the average workers. A union must act to the benefit of its members, and no one else. Police unions are right to stand behind members who are being used as human sacrifices by politicians and toady police leadership. Examples would not include the cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck, but likely would include the cops who were charged with assault for lightly pushing a superannuated leftist or a woman protester who twice put her hands on the cop – both of which I suspect were pre-planned by the so called victims. Those officers would have been left hanging but for their union, and there is no indication that they were or are “bad cops.”

  14. Like other posters here, I don’t suggest that police unions are the primary cause of “bad police”, the unions DO protect them.

    We don’t have a lot of bad police. Statistically, a tiny number of them. (Only 10 unarmed black people were killed by police in 2019.)

    We have a huge population in the US. We do NOT have an “epidemic” of bad or racist police. So, it is logical to assume that if we have an administrative structure that allows for getting bad cops to be fired, we will be doing an enormous amount to get rid of this problem.
    WE ARE TEARING THIS COUNTRY APART ON AN ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUE. EVEN IF YOU DEFUND POLICE, THE NEW POLICE YOU “SUBSTITUTE” WILL BE JUST AS MUCH AT RISK AS THE OLD ONE, IF YOU ALLOW POLICE UNIONS TO RUN IT.

    Improve police pay and benefits. Get rid of police unions. Even though I am a Republican, I am more than willing to pay more taxes to get this done.

    Statistically, it should work.

    Sanjosemike (no longer in CA)

    1. Teacher’s unions would be the better target

  15. “…there is little evidence that organized labor is willing to grapple with the truly pernicious role that police unions wielding collective bargaining powers have played in letting law enforcement run roughshod over the rights of citizens.”

    Why would they? Public sector unions are the strongest portion of the labor movement right now and those type of job protections are a major aspect what public sector have to offer their rank and file.

  16. why do cops have a union? WHY DOES ANY PUBLIC SECTOR WORKER HAVE A UNION? teachers, cops, fire, prison guards, state employees…WHEN HAS THEIR JOB EVER BEEN SO MISERABLE THAT THEY NEED A UNION TO RUN INTERFERENCE FOR THEM.

  17. The four horsemen of the Progressive Apocalypse are government employee unions, institutionalized poverty, activist academics, and woke media. Guess which one does the most damage? (Hint: the one with guns.)

    1. Not even close. They do the least damage by a mile

  18. abolish police? FUNNY. what could go wrong? abolish unions? oh hell yeah!

  19. The AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party will NOT cut tie with police and correctional officer unions, period. They are in bed at ALL levels of government.

    The sad fact is that cops have long been tasked with cleaning up the mess that ill-advised “social justice” politics has made. And for the longest time, they had free reign, as long as they kept the problems penned in where the poor and minorities live. Only when it affects these limousine liberals personally do they express concern, “pontificate”, make a patron saint of a SIX-TIME FELON, and then go back to business as usual.

  20. All public sector unions should be reconsidered…period

  21. Chance the Democrat Party defunds a public Spector Union, a source of much of their campaign donations (taken from taxpayers) and campaign ‘volunteer’s? Be skeptical

  22. Bust all government employee unions. Laziest and most entitled lot.

  23. So the Left is admitting this isn’t an American problem but a Democrat problem.

  24. Union contracts don’t happen in a vacuum. One of the conditions of any contract is that it is made between at least two parties; in this case the police union (the seller) and a government entity (the buyer, ie city, county, state, etc.) The buyer can always negotiate or reject the demands of the seller. All this talk of how important transparency and accountability means nothing in the current state since both have qualified immunity. Take that away so that when government’s bad actors chose to accept bad demands, to to curry favor and support of union members, they can be fired and/or prosecuted even after they leave office and especially when any human life that matters is destroyed. Put this on the ballot and let the voters decide.

    1. pacosdad, you are correct. the majority of the problems, as i see them, are greatly reduced when liability can be levied on those who act like sociopaths. add in a dose of loss of pensions and the “bad apples” will tidy up their recklessness good and damn quick.

      fortunately the issue of immunity has gotten some good coverage lately. i am a fan of the institute for Justice. they have cases on that issue now. i urge all to find ANY advocate for immunity reform and support them with money.

  25. I’m uncomfortable with public employee unions in general. Most public employees enjoy some degree of civil service protection, which was instituted to insulate them from patronage and political retaliation. A voluntary association for the sole purpose of negotiating wages, leave, and possibly insurance issues is one thing. A public employee association involved in disciplinary procedures is another thing entirely.

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  26. So just how much asset-forfeiture cash are the collectivized cop unions ponying up to feed into Big Labor coffers? THAT is the round-numbers question the AFL-CIO octopus will ask. So why isn’t Reason? Indeed, why not point out that only the political clout of libertarian spoiler votes could possibly have any effect on this Kleptocracy mugging racket?

  27. Trumka has a point. Collective bargaining itself isn’t the problem.

    Collective bargaining carried out by leaders that are as corrupt and ethically impaired as Richard Trumka is a big part of the problem, along with labor leadership bringing an underlying philosophy that literally anything that’s in the interest of the employer must be bad for the workers into the world. Public employee unions who buy into the ethos of the AFL-CIO that all interactions with “management” must be fundamentally contentious are putting themselves into a position of literally making themselves the “enemy of the people”; that ethos might not have been invented by Trumka, but he definitely projects it through his leadership of “Big Labor”.

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