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Tyre Nichols, George Floyd and police abuse: Time for a public-union

As the family of Tyre Nichols endures the release of the video of the young Black man’s fatal traffic stop with Memphis police, and the nation still smarts from the civilian-filmed 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis cops, a book hitting this week argues it’s time to disband the public labor unions that its author says make it nearly impossible to discipline improper police behavior before people get hurt and the public’s trust is shattered.

Beyond police unions, writes Philip Howard in Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions, all labor organizing within the public sector — teachers and transit workers included — has made it “practically impossible to manage schools and other public operations, while powerful evidence grows of the political conflict of interest” that the very nature of public unions creates. 

Howard, a lawyer who heads the nonpartisan government-reform coalition Common Good, thinks his argument could serve as the basis for a court challenge arguing that public unions create “an unconstitutional impairment of democratic governance.”

Read: Opinion: Here’s how police unions aren’t like the rest of the labor movement

And: Controversial head of Chicago police union tells officers to defy city demand that vaccination status be reported this week

Howard, in an interview with MarketWatch, made it clear his stance does not extend to unionization of the private-sector workforce. In the private sector, he believes, shared skin the game between ownership, management and labor creates the framework for collective bargaining when it comes to safety conditions, pay and benefits, for instance.

“When you’re splitting the pie between capital and labor, if labor pushes too hard, the company could go overseas,” he said. “In the public sector, government can’t move out of town and it’s not the money of officials we’re dealing with, it’s taxpayer money.”

He continued, “public unions and the local-election stakes tied to them are a way for politicians to give unions something they want in return for an endorsement without the public ever understanding it.”

Read: Unions must reckon with racial inequality and speak to ‘a more marginalized workforce,’ former U.S. labor board chair says

In Memphis, five fired officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes after beating Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop that police officials said appeared mishandled from the get-go. The officers, who are all Black, each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

The city released footage of the attack Friday night.

Read: Memphis police chief ‘horrified’ at what she saw

The Memphis Police Association’s collective bargaining agreement with the city is available online….

Read More: Tyre Nichols, George Floyd and police abuse: Time for a public-union

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