A word about public-sector unions
Many of us learned about unions in our early teens, when American history classes taught how workers were abused in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Private-sector unions helped remedy significant power imbalances.
Although police unions began to form after World War I, public-sector unions were not a large part of the American landscape. It wasn't until 1962 that John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, unionizing the federal government. Public-sector unions are a different animal from traditional private-sector unions, and they're damaging America — especially black America.
In the private sector, management has the bank account at its back while the unions have the labor. Both sides are invested in the business's survival, and both sides need each other's cooperation to make that happen. If management is too stingy and cruel, employees leave, and the company fails. If employees are too greedy or the union goes to bat for too many lazy or incompetent workers, the company fails.
It's a tug-of-war that doesn't always work (e.g., the unions had too strong a hand in the 1960s and 1970s American car industry, leaving it unable to compete in a worldwide economy), but there's usually a balance there. Everyone has skin in the game.
Public-sector unions are a very different animal. Back in the days when the New York Times allowed differing opinions, James Sherk explained:
The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don't generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. F.D.R. considered this "unthinkable and intolerable."
Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions.
In other words, when it comes to public-sector unions, the only people with a tangible financial interest — taxpayers — have no say in the matter.
The government and the union know that, with unlimited funds from taxpayers, the government business will not fail. Because the government and the unions have no skin in the game, there's no incentive to reward good employees or fire bad ones. Indeed, to prop up the Democrat party, which is viewed as the public-sector unions' best friend, it's best to fire as few employees as possible. Loyal employees will follow the union's lead and support the Democrat party.
This unhealthy dynamic is why public schools are so awful. Good teachers don't get recognition, and bad teachers never leave. When poor black families want to escape through vouchers, the Democrats, who are beholden to unions, refuse to allow competition. So the bad teachers stay, the good teachers find better opportunities, and the black kids are stuck in failing urban schools, where they learn nothing.
Whenever you have an institution that protects the worst element, you also have an institution that sees its best employees lose their reputations to that bad element — which gets us to the police departments. Sadly, bad reputations are more easily earned and stick around longer than good reputations.
I'm pro-police and am always inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. It's a hard, dirty, scary job, and I'm incredibly grateful for the men and women who step up to it.
However, I also know that the public-sector union structure is such that corrupt cops never leave. These guys and gals stick around forever and, like a millstone around a police department's neck, eventually drag down everyone's reputation. Derek Chauvin is Exhibit A.
Without more evidence, I'm continuing to withhold judgment about whether what Chauvin did was reasonable (although with a bad outcome), negligent, or criminal. What I do know is that he was a guy with a reputation, one that might have justified firing him sooner, thereby saving America a world of trouble. If that bad reputation was deserved and he wasn't fired, it's more than likely his union had a role in that.
For better or worse, public-sector unions are here to stay. Indeed, in today's complicated world, police unions especially have their place. (Witness the inspiring speech from Mike O'Meara, speaking up for his beleaguered police officers.) However, those good cops who want a reputation consistent with their work need to reform the unions from the inside. Yesterday would have been the best day for that, but today's a good time, too.
(The image for this post is of the New York Draft riots during the Civil War.)