There has been much discussion of winners, losers, and the effect on public employee unions elsewhere in the U.S. after the failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But there has been little comment on one group of unionized workers that were unaffected by public employee union reform, yet joined the losing side anyway. And not once, but on three different occasions.
When Gov. Walker first introduced his plan to eliminate public employee collective bargaining and automatic union dues deduction and to require annual union recertification votes, there were two notable exceptions: police and fire unions.
This exemption was a godsend and it would have been perfectly natural, and tactically sound, if Wisconsin police labor leaders had simply breathed a sigh of relief as the Angel of Death passed over their house on its way to visit AFSCME households.
Instead, many police leaders shinnied up the downspouts so they could get on the roof and try to flag him down.
One expects this type of behavior from firefighters. They’ve always been more committed to labor “solidarity” and most probably know the words to “Joe Hill.” Firemen are accustomed to volunteering in political campaigns and charitable efforts. (Cops say it’s because firemen only work part–time.)
So when Wisconsin firemen began beating on drums in the state capital and protesting the reform legislation, it was not surprising. (One unexpected side effect of the Migration to Madison was the absence of fire trucks blocking the curb at grocery stores and the welcome shortage of firemen brandishing boots in left turn lanes.)
Cops, on the other hand, don’t volunteer.
Part of the difference is attributed to how police and fire unions are organized. Firefighters are much more hierarchical, with the locals sending dues money up to the state and national organization, where spending decisions are made. Consequently, fire locals usually have a shortage of money, but plenty of manpower.
Police unions are feudal. Many locals are independent baronies and keep all the dues money within city limits. Even those locals affiliated with the Fraternal Order of Police or other national organizations still keep local dues money at home and remain politically independent. That’s why effective police unions (those with over 450 dues–paying members) usually have money for political action, and the disinclination to volunteer is not so damaging.
I’ve worked with police (and some fire) unions for over 20 years, and aside from union officers, you get almost no rank–and–file participation. Clients have had to hire temporary workers to gather signatures for police pay raise elections because the officers wouldn’t volunteer.