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Reform police unions, don't dissolve them

As many of you can attest to, we are living in interesting times. There has been calls from both the left and the right to dismantle or outright abolish collective bargaining rights for police. This is simply an attack on dismantling and abolishing collective bargaining rights for all public sector unions.

As artfully stated by Bill Fletcher Jr. in an article written for Portside, an online newsletter: “First, all workers should have the right to unionize. Any moves to eliminate police unions will certainly be followed by calls to eliminate other public sector unions, including firefighters, postal workers, and teachers.”

Not to be outdone, Tom Hartmann, a progressive pro-union talk show host, has been saying the same thing on his daily talk show − removal of unions and collective bargaining rights is not the answer.

Misplaced blame

Every contract that I have ever negotiated contains a management rights clause that usually starts with the following language: “Except as specifically abridged or modified by any provision of this agreement” The clause always goes on to state, “all rights, powers, and authority herefore existing including but not limited to, the following: determine the standards of selections for employment; direct employees, take disciplinary actions; relieve employees from duty because of lack of work, or other legitimate reasons; issue rules and regulations; maintain the efficiency of governmental operations; determine the methods, means and personnel by which the (city’s) operations are conducted ..." 

In other words, cities and towns have always maintained all of the power and authority needed to operate and change what is needed to stop police abuse within the typical collective bargaining agreements. They just refuse to exercise such rights.

What is needed, particularly within the statutory framework in Connecticut, is changes in its bargaining unit structure. Currently, every sworn officer, down from the second in charge, must be in the same bargaining unit under the Municipal Employee Relations Act, the law that governs public sector employees. This means that the untenable condition exists that has supervisory employees − sergeants, captains, and lieutenants − all in the same bargaining unit with rank-and-file patrolmen and women. How can legitimate non-bias internal investigations take place when we have police, from the same bargaining unit, investigate one another? The law must change to create separate bargaining units, with supervisors having a distinct bargaining unit. This change would create the same bargaining structure that exists in all other bargaining units covered under MERA, except firefighters.

Oversight

To end police brutality that has been clearly and unfairly directed at African Americans, each police department must establish a Civilian Police Oversight Committee made up of elected and/or appointed citizens. This committee must have real oversight powers. This means giving enforceable recommendations which, once determined by the committee, must be carried out by the department’s police chief without modification. Should the accused officer seek an appeal, he/she can use the union’s contract just-cause provision to fight the discipline and/or discharge. This is a standard clause that is in every union contract. It gives the officer the right to appeal the discipline rendered.

Finally, should a police department show a proven history of police brutality and/or civil rights violations, it should be completely dismantled and restructured from the top to the bottom, just like towns and cities do with failing school systems. Such a decision would not impact wages, hours and working conditions as outlined in the union contract, but it would completely restructure the department, which means that the only contract clauses impacted would be the contract’s seniority and just clause provisions, which would have to be impacted since all officers would have to reapply to continue to work at the department.

I propose such changes not to destroy police unions, but to save them.

Greg Kotecki of New London is a former international staff representative from the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. He is currently staff representative for United Nurses and Allied Professionals.

 

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