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In Time

Report: AFL-CIO Continues to Work with Police Unions

The report rejects kicking out police unions and defunding the police

Kris LaGrange's picture
May 06, 2021

Last summer, during the height of the protests against the killing of George Floyd and police brutality, the AFL-CIO announced the creation of the ​“Task Force on Racial Justice.” A subcommittee of the task force was asked to create a report on the labor movement’s relationship with police unions and to issue recommendations to these unions. Now a draft of the report has been leaked to In These Times.

During the protests, the AFL-CIO came under a lot of scrutiny for their relationship with police unions. While many unions were joined Black Lives Matter and took part in protests and rallies in support of Black Lives, the AFL-CIO was being targeted by some activists over their relationship with law enforcement unions. Rioters even broke into the headquarters, which is located across from the White House, and lit fires in the lobby. Yet through all of this, the AFL-CIO held firm that they believed police unions had the right to stay in the federation and those police unions deserved the same due process and bargaining rights that all union members have.

According to In These Times, the report was written by the subcommittee that was led by United Steelworkers Vice President Fred Redmond and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. The subcommittee included 13 unions that have law enforcement members, including the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) which is the federation’s only all-police union. It also included the Teamsters and SEIU which are not part of the AFL-CIO but are two of the largest unions in the country.

The 13-page report entitled “The Labor Movement’s Public Safety Blueprint for Change,” is still in a draft phase and is being looked at by member unions before it is made public, was leaked to In These Times reporter Hamilton Nolan this week. In the report, the subcommittee clearly rejects calls for the AFL-CIO to disaffiliate with law enforcement unions. The report does address the fact that these unions need to take a look at themselves to hold bad cops accountable. The report’s introduction says “Union public safety professionals, and our unions, have a duty to call out the wrongdoers and actions that damage people in these communities and, in doing so, the integrity of our profession. We can no longer stand idly by when those who fail to uphold their oath and duty take actions that stain the work of law enforcement,” it says. ​“We must also advocate to protect the right of all working people to have a voice on the job and bargain collectively with their employer.”

The right to collectively bargain for police unions has been a major talking point for many. On May 2nd voters in San Antonio narrowly rejected a ballot proposition to rescind police unions collective bargaining rights that were being pushed by anti-police union activists.

The report also recommends that police unions and departments create a Union Law Enforcement Accountability and Duty Standards (U‑LEADS) Program. This idea came from a recommendation from Schuler at the beginning of the process to create a code of excellence for police officers. This code of excellence is used by her union, the IBEW, to ensure that their members are the best-trained electricians in the country. The U-LEADS program would be ​“developed, owned and instituted” by police unions ​“to train local unions to have the ability to weed out wrongdoers from union membership.” In These Times says that the report does not describe the U-LEADS program in detail, but it does seek to create a divide between good and bad cops.

“Police unions have little or no control over the hiring process, and we do not possess the ability to choose who will be given a badge and the duty of protecting and serving,” it says. ​“It is the union’s responsibility through collective bargaining to ensure fair processes for our members and fair treatment from the employer. Decisions on pre-employment standards, background checks, training, and hiring are made at the sole discretion of the employer and management designees.”  

The report also deals with the popular claim that police departments should be defunded. The committee rejects this claim and says that instead more investment needs to be made in police and public safety.

“We hear the calls coming from communities across the United States to abolish or defund the police. And we hear demands for reforms and stronger accountability in the wake of unarmed people losing their lives in interactions with law enforcement. While we do not believe that defunding or abolishing the police is a solution, it is clear we must make changes in law enforcement to build a sense of mutual respect, trust and accountability,” it says. ​“The way to improve public safety systems and services actually requires greater investment. This is no different than many other ​‘basic’ government services, including education, water, sewer and roads.”

The report also recommends that police focus more on criminal policing instead of focusing on issues that would be better handled by EMTs or social workers; streamline hiring processes; provide more professional development for police officers throughout their career, and provide better mental health services for officers. In terms of training, the report suggests that unions push for more police training in areas such as community policing, implicit bias, and de-escalation while incentivizing police to continue their education and get advanced degrees. They also suggest paying the police more.

It is unclear when a final report may be released and what edits might be suggested by member unions that could change the recommendations of the subcommittee.

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