Blue Civil War
Black Lives Matter vs. Police Unions

Public sector unions are under scrutiny—this time not from conservatives, but from a leftwing activist group. Connor Friedersdorf reports in the Atlantic on an effort by an affiliate of the Black Lives Matter movement to repeal portions of police labor contracts that could unfairly shield officers from being punished for wrongdoing:

Campaign Zero has announced [an effort] to clarify its call for “fair police union contracts.” Its activists researched union-negotiated labor agreements in many jurisdictions and flagged the most damaging provisions. Their efforts are important. These legalistic clauses do tremendous damage to American cities.

Last year in “How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street,” I referenced specific cases to show that “too many cops who needlessly kill people, use excessive force, or otherwise abuse their authority are getting reprieves.”

Police officers have one of the most difficult and under-appreciated jobs in the country, and it could well be that that many of the contract provisions Campaign Zero has highlighted are in fact necessary and appropriate. At the same time, we agree with Glenn Reynolds that today’s public sector unions “are essentially a conspiracy against taxpayers” that have brought pension crises to blue cities from coast to coast and have hampered efforts to improve the quality of public services.

Public sector employees, like their counterparts in the private sector, must be able to be swiftly dismissed if they are found responsible for wrongdoing. But as Daniel DiSalvo wrote in these pages, “police unions have negotiated extensive procedures that shield workers accused of misconduct from disciplinary action.” This type of arrangement, along with other special privileges for public employees, must be undone, and Black Lives Matter is performing a valuable service by calling attention to it, even if one believes the movement has sometimes exaggerated the scale of police abuse.

It will be interesting to watch the conflict between the black left and police unions unfold. It could be that Democratic politicians will be able to take on police unions without alienating their broader coalition of public sector employees. But this seems like a hard needle to thread. Police unions, along with other organized public sector unions, are an integral part of the urban blue model edifice. Renegotiating their contracts when it comes to hiring and firing could lead to demands for rethinking things like teacher tenure, as well. The blue civil war continues apace.

Features Icon
show comments
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service