On Saturday, America got to see a moving and honorable tribute to a fallen public servant, NYPD Officer Wenjiun Liu. America also got to see sprinkled in the sea of blue, a dangerous rogue element. Without saying it, the Police Union showed gratuitously why unions can so easily go astray.
The gist of this story is that a number of police officers turned their backs on the televised image of Mayor Bill De Blasio when he spoke in eulogy of Officer Liu. This demonstration stood in contrast to the calls by the Mayor’s office to honor the death of Officer Liu and leave any dissatisfaction to the bargaining table.
The back turning demonstration has almost nothing to do with remarks De Blasio has made over recent police shootings in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York. Instead the turned backs are all about the stuck negotiation on a new police contract. No one should be fooled by anyone claiming these back turners were protesting the lack of police support. As usual it is all about money.
This situation has brought forward some very unpleasant thoughts. Were these back turners insubordinate? Would these back turners escalate their contract dissatisfaction and withhold other normal police routines? And, most fundamental, who is in charge, the Police Commissioner (and the chain of command) or a fifth column headed by the Union President?
Wage and benefit negotiations are complicated to say the least. Just about all unions have resisted any changes in benefits like healthcare cost sharing or reduced pensions. Police like firemen are public servants we depend upon every day. On one hand they deserve to be well treated, on the other hand, few people want to pay more in taxes. Finding the right balance of pay and benefits and voter willingness to support is not easy. A strong union is essential if the police force is to get a fair shake in negotiations. The problem arise when the “strong union” leaders try new tactics and go too far, not anticipating the collateral damage.
Patrick Lynch, head of New York’s Policemen’s Benevolent Society (the union) sees things differently. Life is about the contract and everything else is fair game as a means to obtain an acceptable contract. An honorable person should be able to separate an assassinated police officer’s funeral from hard nosed contract negotiation.
One must conclude Lynch has come up short on the honorable part.