Modern Day Pinkertons
September 2, 2019 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, along with 700,000 other federal and DC workers, are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (affiliated with the AFL-CIO). While ICE and Border Patrol unions support draconian immigration measures (In These Times), the AFL-CIO supports UFCW workers targeted in ICE raids (DailyKos), the AFGE files friend-of-the-court briefs (WaPo), and union stewards write op-eds (WaPo), against stricter asylum protocols. How to resolve this conflict? Abolish ICE's union (Kim Kelly, The New Republic).

(Thanks to The Whelk for his help with this Labor Day post.)
posted by box (29 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 


Law enforcement should never have unions. ICE, police, prison guards, etc.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2019 [11 favorites]


While I'm still pondering whether or not the best course of action is to outright abolish unions for law enforcement specifically (unions still need to exist for what they were originally designed: to protect basic labor rights like living wages, equal pay, anti-discrimination, reasonable working hours, sick/vacation/maternity-paternity leave, worker's comp, etc.], I do think that all law enforcement - ICE included - needs to have independent citizen oversight and meaningful public input concerning their union contract negotiations.

I agree with the author of The New Republic article that law enforcement unions are historically right-wing and historically way, way too concerned with shielding law enforcement from accountability than maintaining basic humanitarian labor protections. Because there is no question that ICE (and all law enforcement) abuse their union contracts to shield them from misconduct investigations, allow them to expunge past misconduct violations from their record / prevent their misconduct record from becoming publicly accessible via FOIA, and also allow them to still receive pay while on administrative leave/suspension/after being charged with a felony.

Campaign Zero, in association with Black Lives Matter, has been doing this with police union contracts. (See also this article from The Atlantic).

Still, if abolishing a law enforcement union like ICE's is going to be easier (or at least, more likely to ensure that they don't eventually slide right back to their old ways) than finding a way for the public to have any oversight or leverage in how their contracts are negotiated, then so be it. I'm tired of watching politicians and corporate interests squash every other labor union with "right to work" nonsense while still managing to find ways to let law enforcement unions do whatever they want and kill whoever they want.
posted by nightrecordings at 1:17 PM on September 2, 2019 [11 favorites]


Could militaries ever have unions?
posted by Apocryphon at 2:46 PM on September 2, 2019


Could militaries ever have unions?

Nope!

That's just from a quick Google, there might be other laws that apply and I'm sure there's also something in the UCMJ. It seems a little curious that the ban is a part of civilian law.
posted by rhizome at 3:23 PM on September 2, 2019


Military is controlled by the president, a civilian. Civil law would apply in the scenario of out-side intervention. Oddly, the military doesn't really care if you are in a union.
posted by clavdivs at 4:29 PM on September 2, 2019


I am reminded of the Republican party's stance on "states' rights:" all states should have the ability to control themselves, unless they do something we don't like, like legalize weed or something. Then, fuck states' rights.

Either unions are a basic right or they aren't. The argument that "it's dangerous to allow employees of the government to bargain collectively" seems a trifle iffy to me. Consider the federal government. What employer is more powerful in our society? The fact that we don't like the policies of the government doesn't mean that the people that work for the government aren't people.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 4:54 PM on September 2, 2019 [13 favorites]


Recruiting good police candidates and retaining police officers isn't easy these days. Taking away union protections is not going to help this trend and likely cause people to either not apply for jobs or leave the profession completely for something with normal hours. Unions handle things like compensation for overtime, shift assignments and conflicts between commanders and rank and file. One flaw of this is that bad/incompetent officers are hard to get rid of, especially if they haven't done something absolutely "wrong," which is an issue with any union anywhere.
posted by greatalleycat at 7:23 PM on September 2, 2019


Gilgamesh's Chauffeur: That's all well and good, and I even agree in principle. What do you propose we do to solve the very real problem of police unions enabling and even encouraging their members' abusive and often outright illegal behavior. Or the problem of many big city police unions being run by the worst of the worst, the officers who are most actively and openly hostile towards their community? What do we do about police unions actively encouraging the excessive and inappropriate use of deadly force by creating a culture of fear so at odds with reality that it makes flat earthers look rational and logical by comparison?

These are not isolated issues, they are so nearly universal that it is newsworthy on the rare occasion that a department doesn't fit that description.
posted by wierdo at 7:32 PM on September 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


I can't construct a good argument for not allowing police unions that wouldn't apply equally to other public-sector unions. (Aside from "I don't like the politics of police unions", which seems... fairly weak as a universalizable argument goes.)

I find public sector unions sort of theoretically problematic because there's no countervailing market force as there is for a private union. I.e., if the UAW were to somehow get General Motors seriously over a barrel, it's not like they can run pay up that high; eventually the firm becomes uncompetitive. There is an obvious shared motivation by both labor and management to make sure the company succeeds—or everyone fails—to bring them to the bargaining table. In the public sector I'm not sure where you find that. If the "firm" isn't subject to competition and can tax whatever it needs, and the public can't go without its services, where's the downward pressure limiting what the union should be willing to accept? It's kind of a weird situation.

That said, it's a theoretical problem—it doesn't seem to actually happen; I am not suggesting eliminating them in reality.

But if you say the police can't have a union, it's not clear why e.g. the fire department should. (And there are some weird edge cases if you try to draw a line: what about fire marshalls? Fire investigators? Code inspectors?) There are lots of people in various government apparatus who are tasked with enforcing policy through the police power, than just the police.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:17 PM on September 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


Explicitly fascist white supremacist organizations do not deserve anything that gives them more power, benefits, or ability to shield themselves from consequences. This isn't some slippery slope shit. They are wholly opposed to human dignity and rights.
posted by Ferreous at 8:33 PM on September 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


Public sector unions don't have the state's authority to directly murder people.
posted by The Whelk at 9:10 PM on September 2, 2019 [10 favorites]


I find public sector unions sort of theoretically problematic because there's no countervailing market force as there is for a private union. I.e., if the UAW were to somehow get General Motors seriously over a barrel, it's not like they can run pay up that high; eventually the firm becomes uncompetitive. There is an obvious shared motivation by both labor and management to make sure the company succeeds—or everyone fails—to bring them to the bargaining table. In the public sector I'm not sure where you find that. If the "firm" isn't subject to competition and can tax whatever it needs, and the public can't go without its services, where's the downward pressure limiting what the union should be willing to accept? It's kind of a weird situation.

That said, it's a theoretical problem—it doesn't seem to actually happen; I am not suggesting eliminating them in reality.


How is it a theoretical problem? Isn't this whole thread about an example where a public sector union has a total monopoly on a particular kind of work, appears to have obtained a lot of negotiating power over the government, and as a result is doing a good job serving itself and a bad job serving the public? Is this not what you are describing?
posted by value of information at 10:03 PM on September 2, 2019


Well this is completely half-assed idea. The problem isn't that ICE has a union, it's that it exists. Instead of abolishing the union, abolish ICE.
posted by happyroach at 10:17 PM on September 2, 2019 [16 favorites]


> I can't construct a good argument for not allowing police unions that wouldn't apply equally to other public-sector unions. (Aside from "I don't like the politics of police unions", which seems... fairly weak as a universalizable argument goes.)

police aren't workers. they're management. specifically, they're the branch of management responsible for enforcement. because police are management, a "police union" is a contradiction in terms. it's a means of using the word "union" as a cover for something else. it makes precisely as much sense as saying "a c-suite union."

smash their fake unions.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:43 PM on September 2, 2019 [11 favorites]


Strong agree that ICE should be abolished. I’m not yet sure where to draw the line: should all ICE members get to live out the rest of their days in the same cages, or just upper management?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:37 PM on September 2, 2019


Apocryphon: Could militaries ever have unions?

rhizome: Nope!
The United States is not the only country with a military and the American relationship with public sector unions not only doesn't generalize, but is pretty damn unique. Most EU member states have either Military Union(s) or Association(s) organized under a number of different possible frameworks. It is also not a strange concept around the world but gets more difficult to generalize about.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:36 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


police aren't workers. they're management. specifically, they're the branch of management responsible for enforcement. because police are management, a "police union" is a contradiction in terms. it's a means of using the word "union" as a cover for something else. it makes precisely as much sense as saying "a c-suite union."

I would have defined management as people choosing who else to employ on behalf of an organization. It makes sense that that sort of management doesn't also need a union; their "union" is the organization they belong to. But police officers don't choose who else to employ; they have to convince the government to hire them, and they have to negotiate the terms of that employment somehow. So I don't understand what about their work makes it strange for them to have a union.

Why does enforcing things have anything to do with it? If you're the guy who goes up and down the train to make sure people have their tickets, does that mean there's no reason for you to be part of a union?
posted by value of information at 1:39 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't think the problem is police officer unions per-se. The problem is the contracts negotiated by them should never have any clause that circumvents the full extent of the laws for any accusations against them. No-more "Paid Vacation after a shooting", but rather they get the same treatment anyone else would get for pulling out their gun and shooting someone.

I think the angle here is, "clauses that circumvent normal law-enforcement procedures w.r.t. possible criminal actions by police officers, are an unacceptable risk of indemnity to The People who pay the settlements for their actions.
posted by mikelieman at 4:18 AM on September 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


I would have defined management as people choosing who else to employ on behalf of an organization. It makes sense that that sort of management doesn't also need a union; their "union" is the organization they belong to. But police officers don't choose who else to employ; they have to convince the government to hire them, and they have to negotiate the terms of that employment somehow. So I don't understand what about their work makes it strange for them to have a union.

That is a non-standard and limited definition of management. As mentioned in this article:
Social workers and teachers don’t fire bullets into the hearts and heads of unarmed people, or impose brute order when social unrest proves too acute for less coercive pacification. The word “union” shouldn’t be treated as an acid bath that magically disappears this social function. As Kristian Williams reminds us in his indispensable Our Enemies in Blue, “Police organize as police, not workers.”
posted by Ouverture at 4:36 AM on September 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Why does enforcing things have anything to do with it? If you're the guy who goes up and down the train to make sure people have their tickets, does that mean there's no reason for you to be part of a union?

I'm definitely not counting most ticket inspectors as comrades. Yes, if you perform labour that is primarily about policing other's behaviour, about enforcing laws, then you're going to think differently about issues than most other workers. Also, the inspectors here often openly profile people for various markers.

Like, class traitors are a thing, you can "work" but if you're doing it not as a member of the working class but as an overseer of them, you're complicit to some extent, and no longer included in the general usage of "workers". It changes your interests, de-aligns them from other members of the working class. It's not about personal morality - it's about roles within hierarchies.

The ruling class and all their enablers are #cancelled, basically. Some petty landlords, HR managers and soldiers etc do end up proving themselves in some sense, but it's actively harmful to forgive people before they do the necessary work.
posted by Acid Communist at 5:29 AM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Acid Communist: I see where you're going with that, and I appreciate what you're saying. I think it does get a little more complicated tho if we swap "ticket inspector" for "electrical inspector". Still an agent of the state, still in enforcement of laws (electrical regulations, which are primarily about safety, but laws are the backbone of those regs) but still essentially workers who need protection from corrupt influence from above, and whose work can have serious consequences if it is corrupted. Do they deserve the protection of a union? What is the communist calculus in that situation?
posted by some loser at 5:42 AM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Here's my anxiety: who is an enabler of the ruling class? I'm an academic. My labor is about producing knowledge, and that labor historically and currently functions on the sufferance of the mighty. Moreso, even at the graduate student level, I function in a way that props up hierarchies of knowledge and indirectly gives legitimacy to a ruling state. The products of my labor are ephemeral and yet, I think, important, but they stem directly from shaping the thoughts of other people and imposing my way of understanding the world on other people, even if only temporarily.

This sounds like it's only anxiety, but I'm asking about the very specific thought process which has historically fueled leftist attacks on intellectuals and academics, because these professions are not sufficiently proletariat. I look at Lysenkoism and the Cultural Revolution and think: "yes, those are the logical end-points of the rhetoric we're picking up."

I occasionally think I ought to join the Wobblies, whose great work I have a lot of affection for and appreciate--but I already sometimes supervise trainees, and supervision and training is built into the very cells of my industry. If I am to continue in my line of work, I will be continuing to be responsible for people who are under my mentorship. Am I not then disqualified as management?

As a state employee of Texas, I am legally barred from striking and collective bargaining. My entire profession in this state, barring employees of private universities, is thus hamstrung. Graduate students are not exactly jack-booted authority figures, but we are in fact employees of the State literally and figuratively, despite being precariously so. (I am technically a contract worker, did you know? The labor of academics is poorly defined and the job security is worse.) Is our labor worth organizing around? Whose duty is it to ensure that we are treated well? Whose solidarity are we entitled to?

I am, to be clear, no lover of police unions. And I certainly think that the role of police unions as protectors of bad actors must be sharply curbed. But I also think that unions in general are not intended to protect bad actors within a workplace, because bad actors also harm their fellow workers. I think that pushing for this framework, and furthermore encouraging other unions to lean upon police unions and be responsible for the conduct of their fellow unions, is perhaps a better way forward. We are all responsible for one another.
posted by sciatrix at 5:56 AM on September 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


Who works with ICE? A map.
posted by The Whelk at 8:13 AM on September 3, 2019


Oddly, the military doesn't really care if you are in a union.

Unless you go on strike, which could be a capital offense
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2019


Sciatrix, the following doesn't sound like it excludes you.
...No wage or salaried worker shall be excluded from the IWW or barred from holding union office
because of race, ethnicity, sex, nationality, creed, disability, sexual orientation, or con- viction and charges history. Membership is open only to wage or salaried workers except as provided in Section 1(b), but can be denied to those workers whose employment is incompatible with the aims of this union.
b) No unemployed or retired worker, no working-class student, apprentice, homemaker, prisoner or unwaged volunteer on a project initiated by the IWW or any subordinate body thereof shall be excluded from membership on the grounds that s/he is not current- ly receiving wages. Such workers may take membership in the Industrial Union for the industry in which they last worked, or for which they are now training, or at which they work part-time, or in the case of students and homemakers in Educational Workers I.U. 620 or Household Service Workers I.U. 680 respectively as may seem most practical.
...
d) No Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), certified by the government to enforce the law, and no Prison Guard, whether employed by the government or a private company, shall be a member of the IWW, and any member who becomes such shall be expelled.


and that's also how I'd answer some_loser. We don't make these decisions by ourselves, we make them as collectives. Is their employment "incompatible with the aims of this union"? Ouverture's article above says the largest cop union isn't associated with the AFL-CIO. I don't think most people would say electrical inspection is unnecessary or malicious, but hey, idk your local situation, we don't need a blanket rule on it, it certainly has been misused in the past.

As for targeting academics, all I can say is do you think the revolutionary ingredients are similar to those faced by China or in the October revolution? A similar mixture of classes and education levels which is likely to produce similar revolutionary attitudes to tertiary education? Like yes we want to burn half the buildings on campus but not the ones with academics in them, we want to burn the fraternity colleges.
posted by Acid Communist at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's actually the "no bosses" discussion I am usually concerned with:

If you meet all of the following conditions:

You are a worker (not an employer);


Academia is a pyramid scheme. If I am to stay in my field along the trajectory I am currently aiming for, there is zero question that I will one day be an employer and a supervisor, albeit on a small scale. What is the role of managers in this revolution? What do you do if you have enough power within organizational structures to advocate for your employees where you can, but not enough to win? What about instructors at the university level? Both of my direct bosses are themselves employed by a vastly larger university complex that often has neither their nor my best interests at heart, and whose decisions are also often constrained by a hostile state government. How do those of us in industries where the structure is different than those dealing with privately-owned corporations develop solidarity and support nevertheless? Who is my ultimate boss?

Like I said, I have a ton of affection for the Wobblies and I'm very down with being supportive as best I can. But I'm also being honest about my own doubts and seeking to find reconciliation. Please convince me.

As for targeting academics, all I can say is do you think the revolutionary ingredients are similar to those faced by China or in the October revolution? A similar mixture of classes and education levels which is likely to produce similar revolutionary attitudes to tertiary education?

Well, the obvious answer is that I don't know. We're in a different place now than we were then. I will say that America, at least, has a much longer and deeper cultural habit of general anti-intellectualism than China ever did. I don't think this is an immediate threat, either--but I suppose I am thinking out loud about tensions between gig or piecemeal economy and wage economy, and wondering how best to organize in the era of the gig economy and welcome people under one banner to help one another.

Where are the transitions between a worker trying to get by, a worker attempting to use the power inherent in the system to improve it as best they can, and class traitors? Where are the boundaries? That's what I'm trying to work out the permutations in right here, right now.
posted by sciatrix at 10:56 AM on September 3, 2019


I once emailed the IWW to ask them if I, as a small, hippie, Organic farmer qualified for membership. They said yes. I emailed them back to point out that I literally own the means of production and that seems like it would be a little weird. I don't think I heard back.

I was not trolling, I swear it was an honest question! It is, however, entirely indistinguishable from the sort of thing I would ask if I was trolling. /shrugemoji
posted by stet at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't know how far off that is for you Sciatrix, but why let some day stop you now? You could then raise it with your comrades, draw on their experience and understanding of the details of the situation. Sympathetic employers are allowed to join General Defence Comittees regardless as non-members, traditionally, and mark themselves out as on board.

I get that these are difficult questions. I think there's a lot of grey areas, but I'm generally against means-testing entry into the left, because it becomes a needless competition of plight and spawning ground for anxieties. Those who don't belong become apparent quickly. You don't seem to be excluded now, if you joined and were honest with your Fellow Workers about matters as things progressed, there would be no cause for concern.

Also, stet, as I understand it, the concern would be do you employ anyone? Even if you do, you might be able to affiliate as an IWW shop if circumstances were appropriate. The opportunities abound for people to get involved, not just to signal their allegiance but actively help prepare and build dual power. You should only have concern if you plan to stand in the way. This has all been IWW, but there abounds alternatives as well, local groups for local issues.
posted by Acid Communist at 11:21 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


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