De-Unionize Police and All Other Public-Sector Employees

Such unions inherently put public employees at odds with the people they ostensibly serve.

Arnold Ahlert · Jun. 15, 2020

In light of the furor surrounding George Floyd’s death, it’s time to examine the one entity in every big city that incentivizes mediocrity at best and outright failure, sometimes criminal failure, at worst: Public-service employee unions.

Let’s begin with a reality check. Broad-brushing entire police forces in a given area, or law-enforcement officers in general, as trigger-happy bigots is a monstrous lie that anyone with an ounce of integrity would thoroughly denounce. Unfortunately for the Democrat Party and its equally repugnant progressive cheerleaders — for whom the acquisition and maintenance of power by any means necessary is all that matters — integrity left the building a long time ago. Their capitulation to the worst elements of our society, from allowing their own cities to be burned and looted to the establishment of a de facto country in the midst of American city, epitomizes sheer cowardice inspired by ideological bankruptcy.

Cowardice that makes one thing abundantly clear: A vote for the Democrat Party is a vote for anarchy presented as “social justice.”

Ironically, it is those same Democrat-controlled cities and states where public-service unions, including police unions, flourish most. So much so that states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California are facing catastrophic funding shortages for the simplest of reasons — no one represents the public’s interest at the bargaining table. On one side there is the union representative. On the other is the politician more than willing to serve that union’s interests in return for the votes of its members and union campaign contributions.

This budget-busting dynamic has been the status quo for decades.

More important, public unions are anathema to the public interest by definition. A union exists solely to serve the interests of its members. Thus, even under the best of circumstances, what the public wants comes second, if it comes at all.

And it’s not just police unions where the status quo is a serious problem. As Walter Williams explains, “Democratic-controlled cities have the poorest-quality public education despite their large, and growing, school budgets.”

How poor? Williams cites the devastation in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit, where the overwhelming majority of students are incapable of reading or doing math at grade levels. “It’s the same story of academic disaster in other cities run by Democrats,” he adds.

It isn’t hard to understand why. The two largest teachers’ unions, National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have given Democrats at least 94% of the funds they’ve contributed to candidates and parties since at least 1990.

That the same kids who are shortchanged are the ones likely to view society with the kind of contempt that could precipitate anti-social behavior or rank criminality? Democrats and teachers’ unions apparently view this tragedy as a reasonable tradeoff for maintaining their unholy alliance.

The same dynamic applies to police unions. In a paper for the Stanford Law Review, scholar Katherine Bies explains that the increasing political power of police unions beginning in the 1970s has engendered a lack of public unaccountability. “Police unions have established highly developed political machinery that exerts significant political and financial pressure on all three branches of government,” Bies writes. “The power of police unions over policymakers in the criminal justice context distorts the political process and generates political outcomes that undermine the democratic values of transparency and accountability.”

As a result, punishment of excessive force is rare. A 2017 report by the American Constitution Society reveals that 54 officers nationwide “were criminally charged after they shot and killed someone in the line of duty” from 2005 to 2017. Of those 54, only 13 officers were “convicted of murder or manslaughter for a fatal, on-duty shooting.” As of April 2015, 21 of those officers had been acquitted, 11 were convicted, and the other 22 cases were pending or filed as “other.”

The report added that the “high acquittal rate is perhaps even more troubling given that in 80 percent of these cases, one of the following occurred: there was a video recording of the incident, the victim was shot in the back, other officers testified against the shooter, or a cover-up was alleged.”

Video recordings, usually by cellphone, “are game changers,” according to Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police. “They weed out the bad apples. Video is definitely the key in this case as it is in so many other cases in this day and age.”

Yet as columnist John Fund reveals, “Jim Pasco, the 73-year-old executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, with 342,000 members, is a clear obstacle to transparency. Pasco believes that it should be illegal for someone to record cops with their cellphones.”

Pasco’s rationale? “At some point, we have to put some faith and trust in our authority figures,” he told Reason magazine in 2010.

Which authority figures would those be? As Americans have learned in the last three years alone, corruption extends to the highest levels of federal law enforcement and the judiciary. And until the public sees accountability for what is arguably the biggest scandal in our nation’s history, Americans’ cynicism with regard to “faith and trust in our authority figures” will remain unchecked — among all ethnicities on both sides of the political divide.

How do we fix the problem of rogue cops? “The first big step toward individual accountability is to break the power of police unions over the investigation and discipline of individual officers,” columnist Dan MacLaughlin asserts. “Conservatives have long argued that unions in general tend to hamstring employers in distinguishing between good and bad employees, and ultimately lead to collective rather than individual responsibility.”

Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California, echoes that sentiment. “There are so many terms and conditions in the collective bargaining agreements that insulate police from accountability and transparency,” she explains. “Can we know who the bad police are? Are there public records? A lot of times, that is squelched in collective bargaining.”

There are some conservatives who believe defunding or eliminating police unions would cede the last supposed bastion of conservatism to the Left. Yet as this graph from reveals, more Democrats than Republicans received campaign contributions from police officers, police unions, and law-enforcement PACs. Moreover, other public-sector unions overwhelmingly support Democrats.

Getting rid of all public-sector unions would go a long way toward restoring sanity and balance in a nation besieged by leftist propaganda. Even better, it poses a serious conundrum for a Democrat Party that wants to defund police forces, even as it would be decimated without those unions’ campaign contributions.

Merit and competence matter. Public unions are the antithesis of both.

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