The Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) applauds the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC) for its leadership, vision, and responsiveness to Black led community groups in crafting the landmark criminal justice omnibus bill that was introduced by Senator Elgie Sims this week.
This historic legislative package would take crucial steps in advancing racial equity, justice, and liberation throughout Illinois.The bill adopts critical language put forth by Representative Carol Ammons and WCRJ, which aims to upend systems of police impunity enshrined in municipal contracts and state law. Specifically, the bill would outlaw unjust impunity provisions in police union agreements, and repeal the sections of Illinois statute that reinforce these bulwarks against officer accountability and systemic reform.
Throughout Illinois, city contracts shield police from investigations of alleged misconduct and abuse. Local law enforcement unions, like Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), have negotiated watertight municipal agreements that are engineered to obstruct nearly any effort to regulate departments or hold officers accountable for criminal acts. Many of these unjust measures are also mirrored in Section 20 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.
Impunity provisions in police contracts and state law are a key driver of racialized officer brutality and corruption. Armored by unjust contract protections, police officers are often emboldened to exceed the limits of their powers with the assurance of virtual immunity. Such agreements also upend local efforts to enact structural police reform.
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%.
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.
Workers' rights to collectively bargain are a vital mechanism for ensuring equity and justice in our labor system - and by extension, throughout our society as a whole. And yet, for nearly half a century, politicized unions, like the FOP, have worked in bad faith to undermine the rightful intentions behind these powers. In municipalities across the state, police unions weaponize bargaining rights as a means to evade accountability for officer wrongdoing and perpetuate systems of racialized police violence, abuse, and corruption.
Historically, when unions have exploited collective bargaining powers to advance ulterior ends outside the scope of 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.
Under the ILBC’s omnibus bill, police unions would retain their full rights to collectively negotiate legitimate workplace conditions, including compensation, benefits, and hours. However, the measure would outlaw bad faith provisions in police contracts that obstruct public accountability, such as mandatory destruction of misconduct records, narrow statutes of limitations on police complaints, and shields against officer liability in civil suits.
We extend our deep gratitude to Representative Carol Ammons, Representative Justin Slaughter, and Senator Elgie Sims for championing WCRJ’s policy proposal in the ILBC’s momentous omnibus legislation.