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The Fight between Police & Public Sector Unions

How Trump is dividing and conquering and why we shouldn’t give up on the cops

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 25, 2019

In January of 2017, eight years of pro-worker policies ended and a war on unions and working people began. Over the years, public employees have faced constant attacks at the federal and state level. A government shutdown, executive orders that challenge and override collective bargaining agreements (CBA), the removal of release time to enforce collective bargaining agreements and even the removal of union offices from government property, and the Janus decision have all had a huge impact on government employee unions. While unions like the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have spent the past three years fighting Trump on these policies, one sector has stood blindly by him, law enforcement.

On September 10th, the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) became the first AFL-CIO affiliated union to support Trump’s re-election campaign. In their announcement, they said “Trump has done more for Law Enforcement in the past two and a half years than was accomplished in the eight years that preceded his election. He has even undone some of the harmful acts of his predecessor.” They go on to cite ways that Trump has supported them like providing $100,000 to help communities hire more officers and sending them used military weapons and gear.

The reality is this funding and equipment is just a small drop in the bucket. What does $100,000 really get them? In strong union states like New York, that’s one officer. Many would also question whether local beat police really need more military surplus equipment. How often does a local police force need an armored vehicle or a high-powered rifle? And how many times do they need multiple ones? In 2015 alone, President Barack Obama gave $107 million to 200 law enforcement agencies to retain or hire 870 officers. He also gave out $20 million in grants to let local police departments buy body cameras. Of course, police unions like IUPA thought that all this funding was just a part of his war on the blue, a war that was simply just made up.

As the police union is endorsing Trump, their fellow public employee union members were marching on Washington. On Tuesday, September 24th, thousands rallied in DC against a new Trump executive order. This one would make it easier to fire federal employees by dismantling progressive discipline, severely reducing employee’s performance improvement periods, and getting rid of settlements that clear workers records. What makes it worse is that this is all a violation of their bargained-for CBA.  Trump can’t just change the work rules because he feels like it, he must negotiate. This is called effects bargaining. This was just the latest in a series of orders that have violated the CBA and have sought to weaken organized labor’s power within the federal government.

Even with this war on public employees, rank, and file law enforcement stick with Trump. When you take a deeper look into it, you can see why. First, law enforcement unions somehow still, along with other public safety unions like firefighters, often get special treatment. In 2013 when Michigan passed a right to work law, police were exempt, and the same was true in 2011 when Wisconsin passed a similar bill known as Act 10. By carving out this group of people, the effects of the war on public employees haven’t been felt by police unions making them more likely to selfishly stick with leaders like Trump. These “carve-outs” are meant to divide and conquer, a tact that the Grand Old Party has mastered over the years.

While some police unions are being supported by Republican politicians, the perception is that Democratic politicians are anti-cop. During the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton was touring the country with the “Mothers of the Movement,” a group of mothers whose children had been killed by gun violence or police officers. Police took this as a clear indicator that Clinton was blaming them for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Officers across the country felt that these politicians were stirring up anger against all law enforcement over a few unfortunate accidents. Police officers already have a mentality on the street that it is us against them and now many feel that these politicians are waging a war against them. With recent developments of Russia meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, one can argue that the ads fueling resentment by police against Clinton were directly linked to the Trump Campaign. Cambridge Analytica was on a mission to hand law enforcement to Trump.

Now let’ compare that to Trump who was running as a law and order candidate. While Clinton was supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that some police unions view as a violent organization, Trump was saying “Once I am President, police will no longer be shot on the job.” Is it any wonder that police supported him?

Of course, this was largely a lie. In 2018, 52 officers were shot and killed on the job. During Obama’s 8 years in office, there were only 3 years when more than 52 officers were shot and killed. Already this year 35 officers have been shot and killed, so Trump has definitely not stopped this so-called war on police. In fact, one can argue that matters have gotten worse for our brothers and sisters in blue.

What police who support Trump may not understand is that as he continues to attack public employees, they are allowing him to weaken their right to bargain. When the rights for some are eroded everyone eventually loses. It is only a matter of time before Governors, Mayors and County Executives will start issuing orders to override parts of their CBAs and when they go to court t. When they do they will have Trump’s precedent to stand behind. Also, it is illegal in many states for police to strike, so what recourse do police unions really they have?

When police unions give their unconditional support to Trump they are undercutting the fight that their fellow public employees are undertaking to protect everyone’s collective bargaining rights. I fully understand supporting a Republican who backs the blue, who shows up at the PBA fundraiser, and who supports your right to bargain, but Trump is just paying lip service to the law enforcement rank and file.

As a true trade unionist and one who believes that everyone who works deserves a voice on the job, it is important that the union community continue to reach out to our friends on the job and urge them to re-think their loyalties and boldly stand with the rest of organized labor and say enough is enough.

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