Magical Arbitrators and Public Sector Unions

There is nothing new or novel about the fact that a fired cop will grieve his termination and the case will go to arbitration. There is nothing new or novel about the fact that the arbitrator (or three-member panel, as it’s usually constituted), based on the precedent of how the police department dealt with other cops before, will determine whether to sustain or reverse the termination.

What is new and novel is that the New York Times managed to pen an entire editorial calling for the end of this process without ever noting the real reason why this happens.

These cases also demoralize mayors and police chiefs who have worked hard to remove problem officers, only to face orders from unelected arbitrators to give those abusive officers their badges and guns back. It doesn’t matter how much a police department overhauls its use of force policy, or how strictly a police chief enforces those new rules if unelected arbitrators reverse the punishments of officers who violate the rules.

Unelected arbitrators? Is their point that arbitrators should be elected, or that our elected officials and their appointed police chiefs are subject to public scrutiny, but arbitrators are not? We don’t know who they are. We have no say in their selection. We can do nothing about their decisions. They’re “unelected,” and don’t we all believe we have some right to have a say about our cops?

How is it even possible that these “unelected” arbitrators get to decide things that we, the people, believe we, or at least our elected representatives, should decide?

To be sure, curbing the power of these arbitrators won’t be easy. Some states have labor laws that guarantee arbitration to public service employees. Others have a Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights [link in original] that guarantees a right to arbitration if an officer chooses it.

See anything missing in there? No? Take another look. See anything about public sector unions? See anything about police unions? See anything about union contracts requiring mandatory arbitration? Does no one on the New York Times editorial board know about the existence of public sector unions, about police unions, about the Taylor Law in New York and about how mandatory arbitration is almost entirely an animal of public sector collective bargaining?

Or maybe they do know a little something about it, but just can’t bring themselves to say the words aloud: public sector unions are a travesty that should never have been allowed to happen.

The problem for the Times is that unions are beloved by the left as protectors of workers’ rights, defenders of the downtrodden workers’ dignity and the means by which workers can negotiate against the almighty employer. And so they do.

Except when it’s a public sector job, that means the union is negotiating for rules that take decision making away from our elected representatives, away from us, and put it into the hands of people outside our reach. There’s a name for these people. Arbitrators.

Public sector labor laws are modeled on the private sector, although it’s like comparing apples to Chevys. They authorize unions to negotiate for the terms and conditions of employment, even though They prohibit strikes and lockouts. One condition of employment is termination, and arbitration precludes the arbitrary discharge of employees. That’s a good thing, right, and so we want to prevent a newly elected official from taking office, firing all the old employees and hiring all his pals. Or firing the black employees and hiring white employees, etc.

That’s why we have arbitrators to provide neutral decisions, so politicians can’t abuse their authority. And arbitrators have to use some basis to make their decision, so they rely on past precedent. The Times kind of realizes this, but also realizes this means they can’t just demand that the cops they hate get fired because they hate them.

This practice should end. While police officers deserve due process and protection from arbitrary disciplinary action, it is far more important that abusive or dishonest officers be removed than that they receive equal treatment.

Whether anyone on the editorial board giggled when they wrote or read that paragraph is unknown, but it is completely irrational. You can string the words together, but there’s no way anyone can read that without realizing that it makes absolutely no sense.

But it doesn’t really matter, because public sector unions aren’t going to allow it to happen, and government can’t refuse to negotiate over the conditions of termination because the law requires them to do so.

The power of arbitrators to make decisions isn’t some weird voodoo that forced its way into our government, but what was clearly and obviously going to come of public sector unionism. And yet, the New York Times can’t bring itself to mention the problems with public sector unions, no less condemn them for the existence of mandatory arbitration.

Don’t blame arbitrators for doing their job. Don’t blame arbitrators for existing. Don’t blame arbitrators for using the only rational method of reaching a decision, past precedent. Blame public sector unionism, which creates a parallel system of law and rights outside the reach of public opinion and can operate with complete impunity from democratic processes. The New York Times may not be able to admit that it’s the sacred cow of unionism at fault, but we can. The problem is public sector unions.

21 thoughts on “Magical Arbitrators and Public Sector Unions

  1. John Regan

    Finally. Completely agree. But you’re talking about changing something so fundamental to our polity at this point. I mean it’s been a century or more, I think.

    It’ll never happen, right? It’s like me writing about going back to the gold standard.

    But if you see some possibility in our lifetimes how abolishing public employee unions could actually happen I’d be interested to know what that is.

    1. Blackbeard

      It hasn’t been a century. The first state to authorize collective bargaining for public service employees was Wisconsin in 1957. JFK authorized it for federal workers, by executive order, in 1962.

      1. Noxx

        For the cops it has. NYPD’s union dates to the 1890’s, and was immediately the center of controversy because even Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t unfuck them.

  2. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    The NYT article really is mindboggling, like an attempt to explain why things fall that dances around the issue of gravity. I hear you’ve been around a while: Did it use to be the case that the collective wisdom of the Gray Lady’s editorial board would be harnessed to such a mutt?

    1. SHG Post author

      In the past, it was hit or miss, but it’s essentially impossible to write an editorial condemning police arbitration without ever mentioning police unions and collective bargaining. This could win a Pulitzer, like the 1619 Project.

  3. John Barleycorn

    Put down the hammer esteemed one. Police Benevolent Association contract negotiations usually go to arbitration too.

    Boo- Hoo, boo-hoo…

    Bring the words to bind the bid, them hammers just won’t do…

    Use your mind to bend the build or only a hammer will do?

    The kids in the street are looking to get creative with non-negotiable. Seems as though Pat Lynch is too..

    Rinse and repeat, its too hard, boo-hoo, boo-hoo?

  4. orthodoc

    I don’t think the editorial writers were giggling when they wrote the paragraph you cited. Rather, they have a mental block on the idea that one needs “due process and protection from arbitrary disciplinary action” in order to correctly identify “abusive or dishonest officers”. Cf “victims” and “survivors” in campus title IX cases.

    Or maybe they just have not made peace with the Blackstone ratio when it applies to the despised.

    1. SHG Post author

      I hope that they at least know when they write something so utterly meaningless, but you could well be right and they no longer recognize their own illogic when it produces the right outcome for those they hate.

      1. cthulhu

        “The ends justify the means” is the signature of the passionately woke.

        Lewis Carroll (mostly):
        “No, no!” said the Queen NYT. “Sentence first–verdict afterward. “Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice SHG loudly.

  5. JMK

    “Whether anyone on the editorial board giggled when they wrote or read that paragraph is unknown, but it is completely irrational. You can string the words together, but there’s no way anyone can read that without realizing that it makes absolutely no sense.”

    I realize you’re using this as a rhetorical device, but with the sheer number of words you’ve devoted in this space about the propensity of a certain crowd to champion “due process, except for people we don’t like!” I seriously question the idea of whether or not it’s possible to read that without realizing it makes absolutely no sense.

    A sizable number of people are simply hypocrites. A larger portion quite possibly are that damned stupid.

  6. dds

    And yet……


    [Ed. Note: Link deleted, per rules, and what the hell does Patco have to do with anything?]

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  8. John Thacker

    In Virginia our brand new Democratic majority promptly legalized all public sector collective bargaining (which had been banned), including for police unions, and also quietly buried legislation proposed by some more libertarian Republicans that would:

    “Prohibits a county, city, or town from entering into a collective bargaining contract with a labor union or other employee association representing law-enforcement officers or employees of a law-enforcement agency that (i) prevents the Attorney General from seeking equitable relief against a law-enforcement agency engaging in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional misconduct; (ii) includes any stipulation that delays officer interviews or interrogations after alleged wrongdoing for a set length of time; (iii) provides officers with access to evidence before interviews or interrogations about alleged wrongdoing; (iv) mandates the destruction or purging of disciplinary records from personnel files after a set length of time, or limits the consideration of disciplinary records in future employment actions; (v) prohibits the interrogation, investigation, or punishment of officers on the basis of alleged wrongdoing if a set length of time has elapsed since its alleged occurrence, or since the initiation of the investigation; (vi) prohibits supervisors from interrogating, investigating, or disciplining officers on the basis of anonymous civilian complaints; or (vii) requires arbitration of disputes related to disciplinary penalties or termination.”

    They did adopt some decent reforms on no knock warrants and use of force, but I am afraid that in the long run the net change will be zero to negative thanks to allowing arbitration.

    Republicans rightly come in for criticism when they make exceptions in allowing police union collective bargaining, but I have never seen an elected Democrat willing to give police unions less power than they wish to give other public unions.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m not aware of any state, other than possibly Wisconsin, where police unions are treated any differently than any other public sector unions. Public sector unionism is a travesty.

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