Theoretically speaking though, why is there a constant tension between police unions and local and state governments? Can't they all just get along? Well, to answer this question, perhaps we should briefly examine the differences between police unions in the United States and those in Canada to see if there is some underlying difference between the way the two are viewed by their respective societies. In a project commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice entitled, "Police Labor -- Management Relations (2006, Vol 1) the issue was addressed explicitly, the project states:
Labor relations in Canada and the U.S. share a similar history and similar original legislation. So why are the bargaining regimes and outcomes so different? The one word answer is legislation. Whether public sector or private sector, the notable difference between Canadian and U.S. labor relations history is that Canadian legislators have not eroded or outright annulled the substance and spirit of our early, formative legislation that enables the organization and certification of bargaining units, recognition of unions by employers, and facilitates collective bargaining and the administration of collective agreements.
Consequently, police labor relations in Canada operate in a protected environment where neutral third-party dispute mechanisms, like binding interest arbitration, are the norm. To our advantage as well, arbiters and most employer negotiators recognize the police as unique employees in unique workplaces. Police-to-police comparison generally is the accepted standard. For the most part, this has allowed us to hold our own in comparison with self-regulating professions, with each other regionally, and for larger bargaining units nationally. Most important, this protected environment has allowed us to stay ahead of the private sector and separate ourselves from the rest of the public sector in gains in salary and benefits. Good wage and benefit packages account for the low incidence of police corruption in Canada. Being able to rely on a defined process in our legislation and maintaining a favorable image in the eyes of the public as well as the respect of most of our politicians has helped us survive, and in most workplaces avoid, poor labor-management relations. (Kilnnear, 2006, p. 27-28),
In Canada police unions are not viewed as a pernicious entity, a money-gulping indolent bureaucracy, instead it is ingrained in the social fabric that a police union is a positive influence that assiduously works -- via the cooperation of its members -- to mitigate crime. Their ways of operation, their legislation, is clearly defined and transparent. And, what is most important is the understanding by both policy makers and the police unions is that police work is fundamentally different than any other type of work in the public sector. Consequently, it should be treated differently and comparisons that juxtapose police salaries and benefits with jobs in other sectors of the workforce are inherently flawed. In the U.S. however, police unions (really unions in general), are not viewed with the same deference and respect. Unfair comparisons are drawn in an effort to bust unions.
In addition to the external pressures the Locust Club faces, there is also internal pressure(s) within the organization. For example, conflict can arise over members' dues and fees, the near compulsory aspect of the union, grievances amongst union members and union management, etc. After all, cops are people too, so there are no shortages of complaints and issues that need to be addressed and handled in a calm and efficient manner. What's important is that these issues get resolved internally so that the Locust Club maintains a unified front and a singular voice when sitting at the negotiating table.
One way the Locust Club creates a cohesive and generally frictionless working environment is through their grievance policy, which gives individual officers a forum to voice issues and concerns they are having with policies, union management, operations, chain of command, etc. The policy also encourages suggestions from officers who see ways of ameliorating the procedures and/or current policies (J. Collins, personal communication, May 13, 2011).
According to Justin, the way the policy works is officers are pre-assigned union delegates based upon which platoon they belong to (personal communication, May 13, 2011). If they have an issue or a problem they write it up and notify their union delegate. The Locus Club then decides whether the grievance is a viable compliant and whether it should be handled internally or if it should be brought up in the monthly meeting held in downtown Rochester before city officials. If the grievance is deemed worthy of presentation before city officials, then the union delegate will voice the grievance at that monthly meeting and then both the union and city officials will review the current contract and rules and decide on a proper course of action (J. Collins, personal communication, May 13, 2011).
In the majority of instances, grievances are quickly resolved and a decision is agreed upon and adjudicated. In some instances there are protracted disputes about where both sides favor a different resolution, which may eventually lead to arbitration and mediation (J. Collins, personal communication, May 13, 2011). Overall this seems to be an effective way at keeping the peace between the Locust Club and Rochester city officials.
In interviewing Justin and learning about police unions, in particularly the Locust Club and their efforts to maintain favorable relations with city management while at the same time negotiating the best labor agreement they can for their members, I was struck by a recurring theme, a simple thread that weaves its way throughout all of labor-management relations: respect. At the end of the day, labor relations is about having, earning, and keeping mutual respect for the parties involved (Kilnnear, 2006, p. 34). The challenges the Locust club is faced with are plentiful, shrinking municipal budgets, an ostensibly bloated pension and benefits program, overtime mitigation policies, protecting the sworn officers who keep the public safe, but if the Locust Club can maintain the respect of the community and city in which it serves, and those who serve in city council, then it has a real shot of ensuring the best salaries, benefits and pension programs for its members. The best way to protect the police is ensure they are treated with the respect they've earned fighting crime in the city of Rochester, NY.
Blair, G.G., Burgess, M., Dowling, J.L., Greenberg, S., Harrell, W., Hoover, L.T., Hunt,
T., Kilnnear, D., Polzin, M.J., Shannon, M.R. (2006). Policing And Police Labor Relations In Canada: Similarities and Contrasts with the United States of America. Police Labor-Management Relations (Vol. I): Perspectives and Practical Solutions for Implementing Change, making Reforms, and Handling Crises for Managers and Union Leaders. (27-34). Washington DC: Department of Justice.
Clottin, C. The Evolution of the Rochester Police Department Locust Club. Retrieved from www.locustclub.org/documents/locustclub_history.pdf
Kovacic, S. (2010). Badge of Honor Association. Retrieved from http://badgeofhonorassociation.com/