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More on Police Unionism and Police Militarization

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An interesting conversation developed in my post from a couple of days ago on police unions and militarization. Unfortunately, a lot of it came down to what I see very often, which is people on the left supporting unionism in principle but then, when those workers take a position that these people don’t agree with, stripping them of their bargaining rights becomes the answer. The left appropriating anti-union right-wing rhetoric on workers they don’t like is not a good idea, whether BART strikers in San Francisco or police officers’ unions that take positions today’s progressives don’t like.

Joseph Slater had a couple of comments that I think are an important pushback against these ideas. Slightly edited, I want to present them in a front page post:

As someone who has paid a lot of attention to this area over the past few decades, a few observations.

(1) As Hogan at least implied, barring collective bargaining for police would not get rid of police unions or police union political activity. There is a First Amendment right for police officers (and most other public employees) to form unions and act as political advocates. Indeed, in states which don’t permit police to bargain collectively (and there are a number of those, because the First Amendment right to organize into unions does not extend to a right to bargain collectively), police unions still do lobby, often effectively.

(2) Speaking of the fact that a number of states do not permit police to bargain collectively, opponents of police collective bargaining might want to produce some evidence that police behavior, either on the ground or in politics, is “worse” (by their standards) in states that permit collective bargaining than in states that don’t permit collective bargaining: e.g., that the police in South Carolina and Virginia (where collective bargaining is prohibited) are doing better (by the lights of critics) than the police in Iowa and New Hampshire (where the police have collective bargaining rights). I’m not sure such a case could be made, but if you want to take away collective bargaining rights, you should be able to show how things are better where such rights don’t exist.

(3) The concern that police oppose, say, civilian review boards is addressed in public-sector labor law by consistent rules that limit the scope of bargaining for police about such issues. Public-sector labor laws routinely prohibit police unions from bargaining over civilian review boards, use-of-deadly-force rules, and similar policies that clearly affect the public interest. For example, there is a big case out of California on use-of-deadly-force policies squarely holding that police unions can’t negotiate about that topic.

(4) As others have said, critics of police unions seem to put a lot of faith in police management, which seems oddly misplaced in the context of “use of force” issues. It’s also oddly misplaced in the context of basic worker-rights issues, such as unjust discipline, abuse of overtime, and other basic workers-rights issues.

Bottom line / tl;dnr version: cops have interests *as workers* but society has an interest in restraints on the use of force by officers of the state. Collective-bargaining laws balance these interests by limiting what topics police can bargain about. Also, though, eliminating collective bargaining rights will not eliminate the rights of police officers to form unions and lobby for their goals.

One other point worth mentioning. Per Missouri state law, police unions in that state do *not* have the sorts of collective bargaining rights that police unions in most other states enjoy. So the problems in Ferguson — from over-militarization to plain old excessive force — are not attributable to union collective bargain rights.

I completely agree.

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