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Local unions defy AFL-CIO in push to oust police unions

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Several local unions have moved to oust police unions, despite the federation’s approach that collective bargaining can be used for police reform.

The nation’s labor movement is splitting over police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Local unions are defying leaders of the AFL-CIO, who have rejected calls to cut ties with the labor federation’s law enforcement arm and stressed the importance of collective bargaining instead to counter the use of excessive force. Several local unions, including those affiliated with the AFL-CIO, have moved to oust police unions within their locals and remove officers from schools and other workplaces. They argue that police have used their bargaining power to resist reform and protect those who have killed unarmed African Americans.

The vastly different approaches to solving what has become a major election year issue have not only exposed the rift within the labor movement but also threaten to diminish law enforcement unions in liberal cities and could even affect the behind-the-scenes race to succeed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“There are a lot of unions that are very concerned about police brutality,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of Writers Guild of America-East, which adopted a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to disassociate itself from the International Union of Police Associations, the federation’s police union affiliate. “There’s definitely a lot of talk in the labor movement about, ‘Why is this happening and what can we as unions do about it?’”

The second-largest local teachers’ union in the nation, United Teachers Los Angeles, last week voted to eliminate police in Los Angeles public schools and “redirect funding to mental health and counseling” for students. The Chicago school board voted down a similar measure to cancel a $33 million contract with city police that was backed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in protests and rallies throughout the week.

The Martin Luther King County Labor Council, a body of labor organizations representing more than 100,000 workers in the Seattle area, voted to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild earlier this month. The Association of Flight Attendants, which sits on the AFL-CIO’s executive council, passed a resolution demanding that police unions embrace change “or be removed from the labor movement.”

Even the leader of the Service Employees International Union, the second largest union in the country, which itself represents some law enforcement employees, has expressed openness to the idea of ejecting police unions from the movement, though she has stopped short of endorsing the move.

“That’s an option,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry of the Seattle federation’s decision to oust the police union. “I think another option is to use the union structure and leadership to educate and engage every member” in “re-imagining policing and criminal justice.”

That would have been unheard of just months ago — and demonstrates how much has changed since Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis cop sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.

While labor activists say it is unlikely that Trumka would ever support efforts to expel law enforcement unions from the labor movement, the push from locals and some national unions to ostracize the police, as well as the larger Black Lives Matter movement, could drive more modest changes.

Police unions have fought back, saying that no one forced local governments to sign collective bargaining agreements that contain provisions protecting police and warning that attacks on law enforcement unions are part of a pattern of going after organized labor.

“No contract is rammed down the throat of a city or jurisdiction. They signed it, they negotiated it, they agreed to it,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Sam Cabral, the president of the International Union of Police Associations, slammed Trumka’s response to the unrest, writing in a June 12 letter that the federation’s comments regarding America’s “history of racism and police violence against black people” were “inflammatory and patently false.” Cabral said he wouldn’t be willing to sit down with those who “have already indicted” law enforcement “based on one horrible incident.”

California’s largest police unions ran an ad in the Washington Post earlier this month calling for a national use of force standard, misconduct registry and “ongoing and frequent” training. Trumka also wrote in a recent op-ed that the labor movement is calling on Congress to adopt reforms including a chokehold ban and demilitarization.

Still, AFL-CIO leaders have maintained that the best way for the group to address the issue of police brutality is to “engage” its affiliates “rather than isolate them.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the federation, said many members of the movement believe it’s important to have a conversation with police unions, “to the extent that they were willing to have it, for them to change and for us to change the criminal justice system.”

At the same time, the AFT recently passed a resolution calling to remove police from schools and instead train security personnel as “peace officers.”

Part of the solution, SEIU’s Henry suggested, is changing police collective bargaining practices.

“The role of the labor movement is to be a vehicle for the structural change that the Movement for Black Lives is demanding in policing and criminal justice all over this country,” she said.

Some progressives say those collective bargaining agreements often help shield officers accused of misconduct.

Dozens of city police departments, including in Minneapolis, have added provisions to their contracts that delay officer interrogations after suspected misconduct, according to a 2017 study. Agreements with police agencies in Austin, Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have included language that mandated the removal of disciplinary records from personnel files over time.

As more local unions choose to step away or distance themselves from the police, the pressure to break with law enforcement unions has generated an internal debate over the issue within the AFL-CIO executive council itself in recent weeks.

Color of Change, a racial justice organization, said it has discussed the possibility of ejecting police unions with at least five labor groups in the AFL-CIO.

Weingarten said “a couple members of the council raised it” during a three-day meeting in June. In a call earlier this month, American Postal Workers Union leader Mark Dimondstein brought up the matter, according to a person on the line.

The federation’s general board released several recommendations on June 9 for affiliate unions to address police violence but declined to drop the International Union of Police Associations as requested by the WGAE.

The debate could affect the quiet race to succeed Trumka, who is expected to step aside. The election won’t be held until the federation’s convention in October 2021, but Flight Attendants union president Sara Nelson, whose organization has taken one of the most progressive stands on the question, and AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler are both rumored to be interested in taking the role.

In June, Nelson publicly accused AFL-CIO leadership of misleadingly attributing a statement opposing the ouster of the IUPA to the entire general board.

“To be clear, this issue was not discussed by the General Board today and there was no vote on the resolution put forward by WGAE,” she tweeted. “Also, collective bargaining empowers workers; it is not a means to oppress workers’ rights.

Tim Schlittner, the AFL-CIO’s communications director, disputed the claim. He said Trumka referred to the WGA-East’s resolution but that no one offered a motion on it.

The labor movement has successfully ousted unions in the past that didn’t abide by its principles. The Congress of Industrial Organizations expelled 11 member unions around 1950 due to their alleged links to the Community Party. The AFL-CIO also cut ties with three unions in 1957 over corrupt behavior. And throughout the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, the AFT moved to expel local unions that were racially segregated.

Police unions, meanwhile, insist that any efforts to oust them will blow back on all of labor.

“Those who are looking to kick police officers out of the union movement should be very careful,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York. “The rhetoric that they are using now is the same rhetoric that has been used to strip union protections from teachers, bus drivers, nurses and other civil servants across this country.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter reporting on the 2020 race, PA’s Electoral College prize & the left.


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AFL-CIO Leader Richard Trumka Defends Police Unions by Comparing Them to Employers

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As the AFL-CIO struggles with a growing debate over its alignment with police unions, the disagreement inside of the labor coalition itself is becoming more pointed. At an internal meeting of the Executive Council on Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke out against the idea of kicking police unions out of the coalition—confusingly, by comparing them to the employers that unions bargain against. 

In an exchange with a union president who spoke out forcefully against the historic role of police as foes of labor, Trumka defended the police as “community friendly,” and argued that if unions could learn to work with employers to handle contentious issues, they should be able to do the same with cops and their unions.

Since the beginning of the ongoing nationwide protests against police violence, there has been a heated discussion about what role police unions should play in the labor movement. Many progressives want to sever ties with police unions altogether, while others—particularly public-sector union leaders, who fear that any attacks on police unions will translate into attacks on all collective bargaining in the public sector—counsel moderation and “engagement” with police unions to push various reforms. 

The AFL-CIO, a coalition of 55 unions representing 12.5 million members, has found itself in the center of the controversy. On June 8—a week after the AFL-CIO’s Washington headquarters was burnedduring a protest—the Writers Guild of America, East, an AFL-CIO member union, passed a formal resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to disaffiliate from the International Union of Police Associations, the coalition’s police union member. (I am one of the 21 WGAE council members who voted on the resolution). 

The leadership of the AFL-CIO received the resolution unenthusiastically. They immediately put out a statement saying that they “take a different view when it comes to the call for the AFL-CIO to cut ties with IUPA. …We believe the best way to use our influence on the issue of police brutality is to engage our police affiliates rather than isolate them.” Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, Trumka’s second-in-command, advocated instead developing “codes of excellence” to encourage police unions to change from within.

But the issue has not disappeared. Union locals and progressive factions within larger unions have taken up the call. The King County Labor Council expelled the Seattle police union last week, and even SEIU leader Mary Kay Henry, the head of the most powerful union outside of the AFL-CIO, said that disaffiliation “must be considered” if police unions don’t reform. Last Friday, the proposal from the Writers Guild received its first serious and direct discussion at a meeting of the AFL-CIO’s executive council, the elected body that governs the group. 

According to a source who was on that call who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of internal deliberations, Mark Dimondstein, the head of the American Postal Workers Union, raised the issue, saying that the AFL-CIO would eventually have no choice but to deal with the issue head on. Citing the WGAE’s resolution, Dimondstein said that the AFL-CIO needed to grapple with “irreconcilable differences” between police unions and other union members, because the role of police is to protect corporate power, not the power of working people. He called for Trumka to distribute the resolution to the Executive Council for further discussion at a future meeting, and then voiced his own opinion that any police who beat union members could not be his “brother or sister.” 

In response, Trumka, who was leading the meeting, pushed back against some of Dimondstein’s points. Trumka, a former leader of the United Mine Workers, said that he had seen anti-worker police violence in the mining industry, but argued that many police officers today are “community friendly.” He also disagreed with Dimondstein’s characterization of labor’s differences with police as “irreconcilable.” 

“I’d just point out that we have irreconcilable differences with every employer we deal with, yet we deal with them,” Trumka said. He told Dimondstein that in the same way that unions use collective bargaining to deal with employers, so, too, could organized labor use the process to “narrow” differences with police unions. 

The disagreement shows that the dispute over the AFL-CIO’s affiliation with police is not going away, and that an internal battle may be looming. Also noteworthy is Trumka’s somewhat baffling comparison of police unions to employers, as an argument against disaffiliation—an argument that would seem to imply that police unions are an opponent to be bargained against.

Employers, of course, are not part of the AFL-CIO.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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DOJ: To Address “Defective” Accountability System, Chicago Must Renegotiate Police Union Contracts

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Now we know what the Department of Justice (DOJ) found in Chicago after a 13-month investigation of the Chicago Police Department: a “defective” police accountability system whose failures are tied to public distrust in police and Chicago’s murder spike. Among the roadblocks to reform noted in the report were police collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), including the three agreements for police supervisors, currently in negotiations, and the contract for rank-and-file cops, which expires on June 30.

The DOJ report, released Friday, “found reasonable cause to believe that CPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems have contributed to that pattern or practice.”

The report continues:

We found that officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that these foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone—including unarmed individuals. We found that officers shoot at vehicles without justification and in contradiction to CPD policy. We found …that officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons and engage in tactics that endanger themselves and public safety, including failing to await backup when they safely could and should; using unsound tactics in approaching vehicles; and using their own vehicles in a manner that is dangerous.

The DOJ noted that CPD uses force against blacks almost ten times more than against whites and called on the city to tackle serious systemic deficiencies whose consequences disproportionately impact black and Latino communities. In a release following the report, Black Lives Matter Chicago called for “the immediate reopening of all closed police shooting investigations within the last four years.”

The report was released a week before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, whose incoming administration is expected to lean less on the 1994 civil rights laws that enables the feds to compel reforms of local police departments when they find a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. The law allows for agreements between cities and the feds known as consent decrees, which are filed in and enforceable by federal courts, in comparison to less stringent measures, such as technical assistance letters or memorandums of agreement.

The findings come as no surprise, says Ed Yohnka of ACLU Illinois. “What it really did is confirm what residents in Chicago have known for years, which is the system itself for policing is simply broken,” he said.

The report also affirms a critique offered last April by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task force: Union contracts are a major piece of the police reform puzzle in Chicago.

Contracts as roadblocks

Any perceived attack on public employee contracts and labor protections can raise hackles, especially in a heavily Democratic state like Illinois. Yet activists, policing experts and politicians have increasingly targeted the FOP contracts as a fundamental barrier to police reform and demanded that certain provisions be stripped in the next round of negotiations.

In April, the accountability task force found that police contracts institutionalize the code of silence in the police department that shield cops from accountability. “The collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and the City have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy,” the task force report read.

Friday’s DOJ report echoed many of the criticisms of police union contracts raised in the task force report. The DOJ highlighted the myriad ways the agreements hinder how police are monitored, investigated and disciplined for misconduct. People issuing complaints against the police, for instance, must sign sworn affidavits under threat of perjury. Legal experts have said such rules intimidate victims of misconduct and discourage reporting.

Here’s a list of other CBA provisions that the feds said hamper investigations of police misconduct and should be change:.

  • The contracts allow officers accused of misconduct or involved in shootings to delay interviews.
  • The agreements mandate disclosure of a complainant’s identity to an accused officer before questioning, which is problematic because many complainants fear police retaliation.
  • The agreements limit investigations into misconduct complaints filed more than five years after an incident, and requires the destruction of most disciplinary records older than five years.

“The City fails to conduct any investigation of nearly half of police misconduct complaints,” the report said. “In order to address these ignored cases, the City must modify its own policies, and work with the unions to address certain CBA provisions, and in the meantime, it must aggressively investigate all complaints to the extent authorized under these contracts.”

The DOJ report called the city’s failure to investigate so many complaints a major blow to police accountability, saying, “these are all lost opportunities to identify misconduct, training deficiencies, and problematic trends, and to hold officers and CPD accountable when misconduct occurs.”

The city also shares some of the blame for rarely using override provisions in the contracts that would help investigators circumvent the affidavit step, said the report. The report said DOJ staff interviewed investigators with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates allegations of police misconduct along with CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA), and that they relayed that using overrides is not encouraged at IPRA. The DOJ also alleged that IPRA fails to provide training on how to use the process.  “Not surprisingly,” said the report, “this override provision was used only 17 times in the last five years.”

However, the override option contained in the contract is still problematic, according to the report. For investigators with IPRA or BIA to use the override, they have to obtain an affidavit from the other agency’s director verifying that he or she has reviewed “objective verifiable evidence” and concluded an investigation should ensue. “Not only does this process undermine the independence of IPRA, and create an additional procedural barrier to investigating misconduct, but requiring that objective verifiable evidence exists before an investigation can be undertaken puts the cart before the horse,” said the report.

The report also notes that the provision to destroy records after five years “not only may impair the investigation of older misconduct, but also deprives CPD of important discipline and personnel documentation that will assist in monitoring historical patterns of misconduct.” Similarly, the CBAs prevent CPD’s Behavioral Intervention System and Personnel Concerns Program, both programs meant to flag problem officers, from considering misconduct allegations older than five years and limits how “not sustained” complaints (how complaints are classified when investigators claim allegations can’t be proven true or false) are used to determine if an officer should be placed in the programs.

The DOJ also recommended changes to the “command channel review” process, outlined in the union contract and embedded in department policy, that allows various supervisors above an officer to review and comment on disciplinary decisions. The process undermines accountability, said the DOJ report.  The DOJ agreed with the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force that the process “provides a platform for members who are potentially sympathetic to the accused officer to advocate to reduce or eliminate discipline.”

“We recommended to the City during the course of this investigation that it modify the CCR process, and instead have discipline decided at a disciplinary conference headed by a single individual whose decision is reviewed directly by the Superintendent,” said the report, which named the command channel review as one of numerous factors undermining police accountability in Chicago.

The report claimed that these failures of the city’s accountability systems contributes to distrust of police and erodes the relationship between communities and law enforcement, which in turn makes it harder for police to solve murders and other crimes.

The FOP’s response

On Friday, minutes before the report was released, FOP President Dean Angelo issued a press release decrying the 13-month  investigation as “lightening speed.” The release expressed concerns that the DOJ rushed the report ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration:

In all practicality, to have completed this investigation in LESS than one year’s time brings to surface several concerns: the main one being timeliness. Completing an investigation into the 12,000 member Chicago Police Department, and in a City with over 2 million citizens in less than one year clearly brings to light that the outgoing DOJ wanted to issue a report before the new Administration takes over on January 20, 2017. What also remains to be seen is whether or not the Report might be considered compromised, or incomplete as a result of rushing to get it out before the Presidential Inauguration. Everyone who reads this document should be as concerned about the timeliness of this Report as the FOP.

Attempts to reach Angelo after the report was released were unsuccessful. But in past interviews with In These Times, Angelo has insisted that the DOJ probe could be a boon for the union, whose members could benefit from better training and equipment as part of reforms. But he has defended the “Police Bill of Rights” section in the union contract, which contains the affidavit rule and heavily influences misconduct investigations. Angelo has said such protections are necessary to discourage frivolous complaints and unfair interrogation techniques that could endanger cops’ jobs.

The DOJ probe was sparked by the killing of a black teen named Laquan McDonald, who was walking away from police when officer Jason Van Dyke shot him 16 times. In November 2015, the release of a video the city fought to keep under wraps spurred public outcry, mass protests and calls for federal intervention. The incident also put the FOP under increased scrutiny and accusations that the union uses its influence to protect bad cops at all costs. A supposed account from numerous cops at the scene of the shooting, relayed through an FOP spokesman, turned out to be false. And the FOP hired Van Dyke as a janitor after he was suspended without pay. Amid this increased visibility for the FOP, the FOP’s contract with the city was thrust into the spotlight like never before.

In the aftermath of the McDonald video, calls for contract changes rang out from city hall, propelled by allegations from activists and politicians that the agreement makes it hard to conduct effective investigations of police misconduct and sets the bar too high for flagging or firing cops like Van Dyke whose encounters with civilians had already led to several lawsuit settlements and more than 20 complaints before he killed McDonald. The CPD is currently trying to fire Van Dyke, who is facing trial on murder charges. CPD is also trying to fire other cops who allegedly lied about the shooting—but the FOP is trying to block their dismissal.

The Chicago Urban League, an organization that has advocated for African Americans since 1916, took aim at the FOP in a statement released Friday.

“We know that reactions to this report will vary from anger and disgust to, unfortunately, but quite probably, repudiation from the Fraternal Order of Police,” said the statement. “But the Chicago Urban League believes that the report must be viewed as a milestone. It is verification of the worst of what we’ve been and continue to be, but offers a viable path to what we want to become.”

Negotiations ahead

NBC News reports that the city has already begun negotiations over reform measures, which a judge will oversee. What’s less clear is how Trump’s administration will enforce those measures. Yohnka said the city needs a sustained reform effort with independent oversight, and that signing a consent decree before Trump gets keys to the White House would help ensure that.

“With the political instability, what they’d be better off doing is signing a consent decree—and doing it by next week,” Yohnka said.

Trump’s nominee to replace Lynch as U.S. attorney general and lead the DOJ, Jeff Sessions, has sent strong signals that he isn’t a fan of consent decrees. He said at a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the DOJ probes undermine the public’s respect for cops. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong, and those individuals need to be prosecuted,” Sessions said.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement acknowledged the city has a lot of work to do, he touted reform measures his administration has already initiated, including an updated use of force policy, training initiatives and plans for a new independent civilian agency that would investigate allegations of police misconduct. He also acknowledged—and sought to dispel—fears that the reforms will lack teeth without backing from the next presidential administration.

“As we move forward, there are questions about what the next administration in Washington will do, but we know with certainty what we will do in the City of Chicago,” Emanuel said. “We will continue on the path of reform because that is the path to progress.”

Early Friday evening, activists with Black Lives Matter Chicago help a press conference with relatives of Rekia Boyd, Ronald Johnson and other Chicagoans killed by police officers. Activist Kofi Ademola led the press conference, which was captured on video and posted by DNAinfo Chicago, and blasted the mayor’s reforms as hollow, including a new civilian oversight agency that Ademola said still leaves too much power in the hands of city officials and the FOP.

Ademola also accused the mayor of trying to coverup the McDonald killing, and cast doubt on the prospect of Emanuel and the city steering Chicago toward serious reform without federal enforcement.

“The so-called reforms they have been making since the investigation are empty and hollow and ceremonious at best,” Ademola said. “We know that they don’t want community control of the police.”

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 14, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Adeshina Emmanuel is an independent Chicago-based journalist and an Ida B. Wells Fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He is a former reporter for DNAinfo Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reporter.


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