News & Commentary

June 4, 2020

Minnie Che

Minnie Che is a student at Harvard Law School.

Following up on Jon Levitan’s post about police unions – not only are their interests divergent from the modern labor movement, they are also in conflict to the purpose of policing. The purpose of a police force is to uphold the rule of law to protect communities and promote public safety. However, the purpose of a police union is to ensure that its members earn better salaries, benefits, and greater job security. To advance these goals, police unions advocate for safeguards that make it harder to investigate, discipline, and dismiss police officers. Safeguards like these make it hard to effectively manage a police force, which can allow for corrupt officers to slip through the cracks and impact the reputation and culture of the entire force. The Washington Post speaks about the killing of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke. Dyke had already had 20 civilian complaints against him up to that point, half of which claimed excessive use of force. But the collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and the city of Chicago made the “code of silence into official policy.”

Some cities grant officers a grace period of up to 48 hours before interviewing them for wrongdoing, which protects their constitutional right to silence in light of their requirement to give statements on the record as part of their job but may also hinder the investigation process by allowing them time to adjust their stories. Labor contracts can also require that officers’ records of past disciplinary actions be expunged, which allow officers to take police jobs in other cities without any record of past accusations or actions of misconduct. Like other unions, labor leaders in police unions set the tone for their organization. For example, Bob Kroll, leader of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, has said that the protests are a “terrorist movement” and that Floyd was a “violent criminal.” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy is asking Bob Kroll to hand in his resignation because of the “long history of bigoted remarks and complaints of violence made against him.” Words and actions like these from leaders within the police force further perpetuate the distrust between the police and the communities they purport to serve. Read more about what certain cities’ relationships with their police unions are and what this means for police accountability. 

Unions in New York are asking state lawmakers to increase taxes on the wealthy as a means to reduce job cuts in response to covid-19’s effect on the economy. Ten unions, including the 1199SEIU and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), are representing 1.5 million employees across the state who are calling on lawmakers to increase taxes on the most affluent New Yorkers as a way to prevent brutal cuts in education, health care, and social services. Andrew Pallotta, NYSUT President, said that in the last recession 30,000 educators were cut. Not only should the federal government deliver stimulus funding for education, but the ultra-rich should also do their part.  To address the current economic problem, legislators have proposed bills that include higher tax brackets for those who make more than $1 million, a “pied-a-terre” tax on secondary homes in the City, and a new capital gains tax on billionaires. The vast majority of those are lost their jobs as a result of covid-19 make under $68,000 annually, and cuts disproportionately affect communities of color and lower-income individuals.

There are ongoing labor negotiations between the MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA). One of the contentious issues is on the length of the potential season. The union wants a 114-game season with full prorated weekend salaries, while the owners have proposed a sliding pay scale based on an 50-82 game season. Both sides are thinking about their own financial situations. The MLB alleges that it would lose $4 billion in the event of 82 spectator-less games, while a mere 50 games would mean players would earn roughly only 31% of their original pay. Further, players wonder if playing 50 games would even be worth putting themselves at risk for injury or contraction of covid-19. With the spring training potentially resuming mid-June and Opening Day at the beginning of July, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says that a deal will have to be reached by next week for things to remain on schedule. Some things both sides agree on is to limit travel as much as possible by having regional games and to play without fans.

Bill Fletcher Jr. writes for The Nation about the five ways to rebuild the labor movement post-covid-19. He opines that the crisis has created an opening for labor to spark a mass movement to help the working class. First, social Darwinism must be completely discounted so that the rich are not continually protected at the expense of brown and black communities. Second, unions must organize for the greater common good rather than debating whether unions should represent the entire working class or only dues-paying members. Third, unions must advocate for additional assistance rather than a policy of austerity for those who need it most. Fourth, there is a need for massive labor organization that requires national unions. And fifth, unions must support organizing the unemployed given the employment conditions created by the pandemic. With the current labor situation, action is expected and necessary.   

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