This weekend we celebrate Labor Day. Labor Day, in part, is a celebration of trade and labor organizations. This day pays tribute to the contributions of the American worker. Since the first Labor Day celebration in New York on June 5, 1882, the day has represented a time for all Americans to measure the successes of the working class and to thank them for their sacrifices.
Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement. It recognizes the importance of worker’s rights, improving benefits, and work conditions. Unions have played a critical role in this endeavor. Police officers have benefited a great deal from organized labor. As a result of enhanced benefits, better pay and pensions; police officers have moved from the working class to the middle class. The job has become a profession.
Today, organized labor finds itself in the crosshairs of politicians looking for a fall guy to blame for the economic woes this country suffers from. Regardless of party, politicians are not the friends they purport to be. They have decided that it is your benefits and pensions which are the true cause behind our countries problems.
The most egregious example of politicians turning their backs on the police happened this week in Camden, NJ when the entire 460 officer department was fired and replaced by a group of non union county officers. Camden is a gritty inner city job and the officers who walked those streets faced the constant threat of physical violence. They will be replaced by much less experienced officers who patrol rural areas and have little or no experience dealing with inner city problems. Gone are seasoned investigators and all first line supervisors and administrators.
Camden represents the game plan for politicians who don’t want to honor our contracts. Camden has the highest crime rate in the state, yet the local government had no problem firing highly trained officer and replacing them with cheaper, less experienced officers. This example of union busting had the expressed blessing of Governor Chris Christie, another enemy of labor.
Camden would never have happened if politicians thought they still needed to win public opinion to their side. It’s just that simple. There are some lines politicians just will not cross. By firing an entire police force at a time when crime is on a steady rise, and you are already recognized as the most dangerous City in the State means local politicians in New Jersey are comfortable with the fact they can deal with the collateral damage such an act entails.
The mayor, the City Council, the local prosecutor, the state legislature, and finally the governor all are saying to Camden’s police officers, “DROP DEAD.!”
Politicians have always yearned for the endorsement of law enforcement unions. All candidates for office want to be the law and order candidate and the best way to illustrate this is to line up endorsements from as many police organizations as possible.
Camden could change all that. This is what is called a “teachable moment” for labor. If financial security replaces law and order as the major priority than it’s a whole new ballgame. Now is the time for local police officers throughout the country to unite.
Unions should hold all politicians accountable for votes against public employees. It is the responsibility of every union to closely examine the voting record of your local elected officials. Also, there is strength in numbers. Police unions should unite with other first responders like fire unions, sheriffs, EMS workers and form coalitions. The formation of such a body could alter a local election. Money is important but bodies are invaluable. Do not forget to educate other officers and your family about the issues and the positions of the local politicians.
Finally, we have at our disposal today something the early labor movements could never have thought of, social media! Use it to get the word out. My website routinely shows the voting record of all state legislatures on bills related to the police profession. Only by turning the tide of public opinion can we get rid of politicians who put public safety at risk and who have no respect for public employees. As a union president I understand how important it is to win the battle of hearts and minds.
Much has been scarified by those who came before us. Labor Day reminds us of those sacrifices and the tremendous will the American worker displayed during the formation of the organized labor movement. We owe that same effort to the future workers of this country, especially the police officers who will be protecting our streets.
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