Over the course of the past decade, WCRJ has led a grassroots campaign to outlaw unjust police union contracts that obstruct accountability for officer misconduct. Now that a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit new restrictions on collective bargaining rights will appear on the Illinois ballot in 2022, our fight is more urgent than ever. Before this amendment is held for a vote, lawmakers must reign in police unions' rampant abuse of collective bargaining powers.
Police Impunity in Illinois
Throughout Illinois, unjust union contracts shield law enforcement from investigations of alleged misconduct and abuse. Politically powerful police organizations, like Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, have negotiated watertight collective bargaining agreements that are engineered to obstruct nearly any attempt to regulate departments or hold officers accountable for criminal acts.
In order to ensure end this pernicious system of officer impunity, Illinois lawmakers must enact common sense limitations on police union contract agreements
The Urgency for Immediate Policy Change
In May 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed a proposed constitutional amendment, which, if approved by voters in the 2022 election, would broadly prohibit the passage of any new legislation that would limit workers’ collective bargaining rights.
For nearly a decade, the Workers Center for Racial Justice has mobilized Black workers in the struggle for equitable and just employment conditions. We believe that workers' right to collectively bargain is a vital mechanism for ensuring fairness and opportunity in our labor system - and by extension, throughout our society as a whole. However, the sweeping ballot initiative on collective bargaining rights would threaten the safety and liberation of our communities, if the constitutional amendment were to pass before Illinois lawmakers actively address the longstanding abuse of bargaining powers on the part of local police unions.
5 Ways Police Contracts Obstruct Justice
The most union police union contract signed by the city of Chicago in 2012 exemplifies how such agreements often shield officers from accountability for criminal acts. These impunity provisions are echoed in local police union contracts throughout the state.
Unjust Police Contracts Drive Systemic Abuse
Armored by unjust contract protections, police officers are often emboldened to exceed the limits of their powers, with the assurance of virtual immunity.
States that recently authorized collective bargaining powers for police unions, witnessed a subsequent increase in racially targeted police brutality. After Florida legalized union contracts for deputy sheriffs in 2003, complaints of officer violence rose by 40%.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released data demonstrating that unionized law enforcement units received significantly higher rates of use-of-force complaints than non-unionized police agencies.
Another recent investigation of the nation's one hundred most populous cities found that impunity provisions in police contracts are correlated with increased officer violence. In this study, Chicago ranks the highest, both in terms of contract shields against accountability, as well as rates of police brutality.
Precedents for Reform
For nearly half a century, politicized police unions have worked in bad faith to undermine the rightful intentions behind workers collective bargaining rights. Groups like the FOP have inserted toxic impunity provisions into contracts for the purpose of evading transparency, accountability, and systemic reform.
Historically, when unions have exploited collective bargaining powers to advance ulterior ends, outside the scope of legitimate labor rights, the law has intervened. For example, in decades past, when workers' unions negotiated racially exclusionary contract terms, the courts ruled these activities to be unlawful.
Amid recent, heightened calls for racial justice across the U.S., Washington D.C. unanimously passed an ordinance to restrict police unions from including impunity measures in collective bargaining agreements.
A Path Forward for Illinois
In order to ensure that this harmful system of officer impunity is not enshrined in the state constitution, Illinois lawmakers must enact common sense limitations on police union contract agreements before the collective bargaining amendment is voted on in 2022.
In September 2020, Representative Carol Ammons, in partnership with WCRJ, introduced a bill to prohibit impunity provisions in police collective bargaining agreements. After months of grassroots advocacy on the part of WCRJ, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus adopted the bill in the introduced version of the criminal justice omnibus bill. However, during the 2021 lame duck session, police unions and powerful organized labor groups voiced opposition to the measure, and the bill was negotiated out of the final omnibus package.
Since that time, WCRJ has amended the bill language to address the concerns voiced by labor unions during the lame duck session. This new language would impose more narrow and targeted limitations on impunity provisions in police union contracts. WCRJ is now mobilizing to ensure that this measure is signed into law ahead of the 2022 constitutional amendment vote.