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Police Collective Bargaining
Updated On: Jun 23, 2013

Police are a distinctive group in public employment. The general public regards them as a special breed.  Their everyday work is in the interest and safety of the community. Their services affect each citizen and are considered the most essential of all public services.  Police officers strongly believe in their duty to serve and protect, and are committed to the citizens they are sworn to serve.  The nature of police work requires officers to regularly be placed in situations that could cost them their lives or well-being.  They proudly accept that responsibility.  In no other profession in this country, other than fire fighting and military duty, do governments expect their employees to lay down their lives, if necessary, to protect its citizens.  That fact by itself places police officers in a class separate from other city employees, and demands police officers be compensated differently.

 

Police are the most highly organized of public employees, and police unions are among the oldest in public employment. There are literally thousands of collective bargaining agreements in place across the country between police officers and the cities and counties they work for.  Therefore it is not surprising that labor relations for police often have unique aspects in public employee collective bargaining.  If a City expects to reduce the burden on its taxpayers by asking its police for greater efficiency and effectiveness, then it must involve them in the discussions that affect their work. The goal of such discussions is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and to ratify the agreement in the form of a written contract. In doing so, it helps build a relationship of trust between the police officers and the City. 

 

The collective bargaining process promotes enhanced employee morale and provides a basic level of self-determination. Collective bargaining is about problem solving. It is about compromise and fairness to both sides.  Collective bargaining, by definition, allows employees and employers to openly discuss pay, benefits and working conditions. Collective bargaining is the system that provides a vehicle for the parties to reach an  agreement that is fair to all by productive exchange of information and good faith bargaining. It allows employees to participate in employment-related discussions and offer insightful feedback on issues that affect and protect their working conditions. Simply put, it is a process under which the elected representatives of police officers meet and confer with representatives of the city to discuss, analyze, and reach decisions on issues important to all parties. Studies have shown with a collective bargaining agreement in place, retention of experienced police officers improves and so does the ability to attract experienced officers from other agencies.

 

City administrators sometimes argue that contractual relationships between police officers and their City should be at an individual, one-to-one level.  Most officers realize, however, that there is no equality in status or bargaining position between the City and the individual officer on his or her own.  A balance can only be achieved where the officer’s interest is supported by collective representation.  This does not automatically imply conflict or adversarial relationships between the City and its police.   On the contrary, a balance of influence and strength can provide a more solid foundation for partnership and co-operation within, or parallel to, the collective bargaining system.

 

In collective bargaining, police employees would seek to define their terms and conditions of employment in a legal, binding contract. Dependent upon what the employees can negotiate with the City, a contract can contain such provisions as hours of work, wage and salary definitions, safety and work rules, definition of benefits, and orderly procedures for resolution of differences.  A contract may deal with pay, or work conditions, or procedural arrangements governing the relationships between police officers and their City.  The bargaining process is based on an understanding that there are differing and often conflicting interests to be reconciled between the workforce and the City.  With collective bargaining a legal contract will exist between the parties that will specify all the items that have been mutually agreed to.  It is a legally binding document and as such creates a "level playing field" for both sides to work on issues.

 

Collective bargaining reduces the burden on taxpayers.  Statistically speaking, collective bargaining, as a management tool, tends to make government more efficient.  City management can rest knowing what its commitments are and what the budgetary impact will be for the term of a contract.  The City benefits because long-term contracts provide orderly control of wages and benefits and management can determine its labor costs accurately.  As long as the contract is honored they won’t have to deal with the possibility of lawsuits and constant issues of disagreement which generally fosters an adversarial environment.  They can realize the benefit of having an open and honest two-way flow of communication with their police employees.  Collective bargaining is necessary for the type of monetary accountability and responsibility the taxpayers feel they deserve.  Collective bargaining agreements ensure more fiscal responsibility by managers, which ultimately benefits the taxpayer. 

 

With collective bargaining the Police Chief’s job is made easier when he does not have to spend time trying to convince city administration of what he needs to maintain morale and stability in his workforce.  With a contract in place police management can concentrate on providing the services the public expects.  Issues involving wages and benefits, which the Chief currently argues on, will be covered and guaranteed for the term of any negotiated contract.  Staffing will stabilize and the citizens will benefit.  For the duration of the contract all costs are fixed. This allows the City to properly balance its public safety budgets.

 

Both management and employee rights are clearly defined and protected in a collective bargaining environment. Included in any collective bargaining agreement is a list of matters that are mandatory subjects of bargaining and a list of subjects that are protected “management rights.”  Traditionally there is a cadre of management rights not subject to negotiations. Police officers fully understand the obligation of government to provide efficient and responsive public safety services to the community, and the essential need for management to exclusively maintain the tools to provide those services. Protection of traditional management rights allows managers to fulfill their duties and responsibilities to the community. 

 

Management rights include, but are not limited to:  Determining staffing levels and the decision to hire and discipline employees.  Determine the location of facilities, services to be rendered, and operations to be performed.  Determine the mission of the department, its divisions, and committees, and set standards, types, and frequency of service.  Exercise complete control and discretion over its organization, operations, and the technology of performing its work.  Determine and direct all necessary actions to carry out its mission in emergencies and other situations of unusual or temporary circumstances.  Maintain the efficiency of its operation and determine the means, methods, and personnel by which such operations are to be conducted.

 

Collective bargaining with employees does not automatically increase the expenditures or the cost of doing business for a City. Collective bargaining allows employees to negotiate wages and benefits.  However, no one should assume that wages and benefits would automatically increase with collective bargaining.  Employees understand it is not a panacea for a compensation package. Employees fully realize that wages and benefits are directly tied to revenues and the city’s ability to pay. The City certainly cannot commit money that is not there.  In fact negotiated agreements generally ensure more fiscal responsibility by managers, which ultimately benefits the taxpayer.  This is necessary for the type of monetary accountability and responsibility the taxpayers feel they deserve.

 

A collective bargaining agreement with police employees would prohibit strikes, work stoppages and any other illegal job action.  All police labor unions expressly prohibit and condemn those acts in their constitutions and bylaws, and would never allow or entertain such actions.  Those are methods used in the private sector to resolve disputes and contract violations.  Disagreements during collective bargaining negotiations between cities and their police normally are resolved with some form of impasse resolution involving mediation or arbitration. 

 

Impasse resolution is a simple proceeding that permits the parties to a good faith dispute to resolve their differences by calling upon one or more neutrals to make a decision based on the merits of the case.  Because it is not procedure bound, it does not carry with it the legal baggage that lawyers introduce in civil courts.  In litigation, you see countless motions to dismiss the case, obtain summary judgment, limit evidence, and so forth that are part and parcel of even the simplest case.  Litigation is expensive and time consuming and does not benefit the taxpayer.  By comparison most systems of impasse resolution (including arbitration) are relatively inexpensive and eliminate those procedural legal impediments and require focus upon the facts. 

 

So why would the involved parties want arbitration?  For the simple reason that it tends to bring about fair and reasonable bargaining, and stands as the only workable vehicle to attain redress if bargaining breaks down. Generally the parties to a dispute, ultimately, want the matter resolved and welcome finality and accept an arbitrated decision.  As a master of fairness and equity, a professional arbitrator is put off by extreme arguments and overbearing demands. Because union lawyers and city officials know this to be true, the possibility of arbitration very often forces parties to sharpen a bargaining position to one that is more reasonable than they otherwise might adopt. It eliminates the imposition of the will of one side on the other that often leaves bitterness and resentment in its trail.

 

In summation collective bargaining is not an issue of tax increases or increased spending by government.  It is about having an equal voice in an atmosphere of mutual respect.  Something most people agree with regardless of their political affiliations or philosophies.  It is about improving public safety services.  It is about attracting and retaining the quality police employees citizens deserve.  It is about fairness and equality. It is about formal problem solving.  It is about common dignity.

 

Collective bargaining will create a proven and stable platform for communication between the parties. This platform will not be blown about by the winds of political and administrative change and will create a strong partnership between the citizens of the community and their police employees. Most importantly it is about positive change.  It is an issue all citizens can support.


 
 
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