Friday, September 16, 2016

Belaboring Unfairness

Because of dwindling membership, unions don’t matter much in the private sector anymore. This partially explains why there has been a shift from unions setting wage rates to government mandates, generating that huge debate over increasing the minimum wage. Government is just trying to fill the void left by the rapid decline of unionism in the private sector. Not so for government workers that many believe are over-protected by collective bargaining.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.2 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent)… The union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions--was 11.1 percent in 2015, unchanged from 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported [January 28th]. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million in 2015, was little different from 2014. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.”
So many problems have arisen by reason of that rather significant increase in government union representation. With some justification, conservatives scream that the power of government union coffers and out-and-out support, also enhanced by the miserable Citizens United ruling, causes too many local elected officials in predominantly Democratic areas to kowtow to union demands for high levels of compensation and protections that even private union members have never enjoyed. They point out that municipal bankruptcies, notably exemplified by Detroit, have often been pushed over-the-top by city officials voting for union wage rates that the relevant municipality really has no viable means of paying.
Nobody is going to claim that teachers are overpaid or that a whole host of civil servants aren’t justified in their pay rates, but the system has generated some very serious questions, if not out-and-out abuses. Nowhere is this more true that Chicago, Illinois, a Democratic city, through and through, where rough and gruff politics gives unions the upper hand. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured above with Chicago Police Superintendent, Eddie Johnson) has fallen from a very popular powerhouse to a man whose political career may have been smashed in a collision with a brick wall, one that has moved that Windy (from the flapping lips of politicians) City to become the murder capital of the United States, a statistical nightmare that is just getting worse. And Chicago has some of the worst police-community relations in the free world.
On September 3rd, the New York Times Editorial Board, as a group, focused on one of the causes of this failure: the distorted policies and procedures embedded in the police union agreement. Here is much of what they had to say:
Across the country, municipal governments have signed contracts with police unions including provisions that shield officers from punishment for brutal behavior as well as from legitimate complaints by the citizens they are supposed to serve.
That may soon change, as public outrage over police killings of civilians is ratcheting up pressure on elected officials to radically revise police contracts that make it almost impossible to bring officers to justice.
The most striking case in point is Chicago, which has been roiled by a police scandal stemming from a cover-up in the case of a 17-year-old named Laquan McDonald, who was executed by a police officer nearly two years ago.
The Police Department first claimed that Mr. McDonald was brandishing a knife and moving toward officers when he was killed. A video — probably available to the city within hours of the shooting but not made public until last November, more than a year later — showed that Mr. McDonald was moving away from the cops when they shot him 16 times, and that the police were obviously lying.
But it was not until last month that the city’s inspector general recommended firing several officers, some of whom have since retired, for making false statements.
That recommendation was passed on to the police superintendent, Eddie Johnson. Mr. Johnson, who lacks the power to fire the officers outright, has filed administrative charges against five officers with an agency known as the Chicago Police Board, whose members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.
It is incredible that this is the first official disciplinary action taken against the officers, 22 months after the killing. And even if the board votes to dismiss the officers, they will be able to challenge their dismissals in court.
As a task force appointed by Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, noted in April, “The collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and the city have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy.”
This absurdly slow process is a direct outgrowth of collective bargaining agreements that actually encourage officers to lie. The agreements bar investigators from questioning officers within the first 24 hours after a shooting, giving them time to coordinate their accounts. They micromanage investigations, limiting what interrogators can do. Beyond that, if an officer lies during an investigation, he or she cannot be charged with making a false statement unless the investigator presents the officer with a new set of allegations that specifically address the lie.
The labor agreements also discourage citizens from lodging misconduct complaints. Among other things, they prohibit most anonymous complaints, a problem in a city like Chicago, where the department has a history of brutality and even torture — and where citizens are understandably fearful of reprisal.
As in other cities, officers in Chicago can challenge disciplinary findings in proceedings overseen by arbitrators, who frequently have a vested interest in pleasing the police unions so they can keep their jobs. One earlier review of arbitration cases found that disciplinary sanctions were ‘routinely cut in half by arbitrators.’ The system makes it difficult for citizens to get a full explanation of how their complaints are handled.
The U.S. Department of Justice routinely investigates cities with such horrific community-police department relations. Chicago has to be high on that list. It’s about time. The Chicago model has completely failed to serve the citizens of that great town!
I’m Peter Dekom, and the NY Times Editorial Board said it best: “To restore public confidence in the law, elected officials around the country will have to stop reflexively truckling to police unions and demand contracts that actually reflect the public interest.”

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