|Time to circle the wagons|
|Written by Ron DeLord|
So who should be worried? The highly compensated law enforcement agencies, especially in areas of the country where the housing markets have collapsed, are the most vulnerable. These agencies have received wages and benefits that far exceed those enjoyed by the general public, including many of the elected officials. Some police unions have started to believe that they are bullet-proof from budget cuts. Just ask yourself what happened to the mighty auto workers, steel workers and coal miners. They were at the top of their game and collapsed. If your union believes nothing bad will happen, you are in for a rude awakening.
It will start with a trickle such as civilianizing or contracting out more positions and using technology. The elected officials will tell the public, “Why should we pay a police officer $100,000 a year to do a job a non-sworn employee or private contractor will do for half the cost.” It is getting harder and harder to justify using sworn officers in many jobs that were traditionally police functions. The next move will include red light and eventually speed cameras to “free up” these highly paid officers for more serious police work. Do not expect the revenue to go back to the police department.
Next the pressure will mount to create two-tier wage and benefit plans. Despite knowing the internal dissension that will be caused by having two officers working side-by-side, and each having different health insurance or pension plans, police unions are starting to accept or be forced to accept two-tier plans. The common employer pitch to the union is, “We can continue to fund your pension, but we must have budget relief by allowing the city to pay less for future officers. If you refuse, we will be forced to lower the pension for current officers.” The pressure to sell the unborn to save themselves is more than many union leaders can stand.
And if all else fails to squeeze concessions out of the police budgets, the city will declare bankruptcy to abrogate its employee contracts like Vallejo, California did recently. While the city is far from bankrupt, the goal is to use tax payer money to tie the unions up in court and drain their treasuries.
If you know what to expect in the future and you do not prepare yourself, you only have yourself to blame. Here are some simple rules when you are forced to say, “I never believed it would happen to me.”
Rule No. 1 – The battle is in the Court of Public Opinion! The employer will be making its case to the public and media. It is a fight for the hearts and minds of the tax payers. If the public is in a foul mood over their personal finances, you will get little sympathy by arguing you deserve to be paid more than the high school principal. The message has to be directed to how the reduction in police services will impact their lives. It is all about the public!
Rule No. 2 – The political fight is the main event and lawyers are a side show. If you are forced into the courthouse or arbitration, you may have waited too long to start the political machine. Police unions can avoid many of these issues by endorsing and supporting candidates who will not ask them to make such a decision, or negotiate in good faith with the union over any change. You have to recruit candidates and be involved in each election. Every decision impacting police officers is decided by a political vote. How many votes do you have on the issue? If you lack a majority, how many do you need to get right side up?
Rule No. 3 – If you get caught behind the eight ball, and the employer is attacking you as a greedy and uncaring union you must identify the vocal critics and make them feel your pain. Somehow this seems to be where the unions get queasy and weak-kneed. It is often difficult to convince yourself or the members to picket some councilman’s business, put their home telephone numbers up on billboards, and in general make their lives a living hell. Union leaders who feel they are too professional to stoop to these tactics are the same ones who believe they can win by remote control using some lawyer.
The bottom line: The main event is a POLITICAL GAME and the legal game is the side show. Unless you beat them politically, you will never win even if the courts one day decide in your favor. If you discover you cannot win under the current rules, change the rules, and go outside the experience of the elected officials. Think outside the box. Get dirty and fight to win. If you are in this predicament, then your elected officials did not RESPECT the union or the officers. To get respect you have to bloody their noses and demonstrate that the union is willing to make it personal, because it is personal on so many levels.
Ron DeLord is the former executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).
Ron is right, as usual.
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