Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

In Camden, Not Fighting Crime Pays

Although Camden, New Jersey has fewer than 80,000 residents, it is known as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation. And this year, the homicide rate is on pace to beat the single-year record of 58.

So it came as a shock when Mayor Dana Redd announced that the city would abolish its police force and instead create a county-run police division. It’s less of a shock when you find out that the new division as part of the county force, will not have a collective bargaining agreement.

Redd has noted that while the current unionized force has a 30 percent absenteeism rate, their union representatives continue to claim that their members were overworked. Reed however has asked that all uniformed police officers report for duty—including union reps.

But does that mean the union presidents will walk the streets in order to help relieve the stress? Apparently not. Two police officers who are union leaders have been on paid leave and exempt from traditional police duties—for years—in order to do union work.

“One sergeant and one detective are not going to solve the crime problem,” [police union president Kevin] Wilkes said. “It’s obviously retaliation. It’s obviously trying to stifle us.”

Union bosses talk out of both sides of their mouths. On one hand, they constantly say how important it is that as many union members are on the job as possible, and that meeting job performance standards is impossible without the necessary numbers. That is especially true when the issue is either the student-to-teacher ratio in the classroom or the number of cops on the beat.

But when push comes to shove, union bosses have no interest in giving up union release time, even if it might help out their struggling membership.

The unions’ obsession with holding on to power is what might have brought this problem on in the first place. Acknowledging that the mayor may in fact be going after the union, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized:

Union leaders make a point, but they might get more sympathy by giving up expensive perks, such as taking paid leave to conduct union business on junkets to Atlantic City. Past inflexibility by the union on modifying work rules that hampered the deployment of officers in high-crime areas was a major factor in proposing an alternative police force.

Once again, a case of public sector unions biting the hand that feeds them.

This problem isn’t isolated to the police in Camden, however. The Courier Post reports that these officials are only two of many:

According to the [State Commission of Investigation Report], government-paid leave for public-union representatives cost more than $30 million in salaries and medical benefits during the review period.

The report said that police and fire union officials in Camden raked in $2.3 million in salary and benefits over five years. And as the two police officials squabble over their ability to force taxpayers to foot the bill for their salaries to perform only union activities, scores of cops will be out of work by year’s end.

For Camden police union bosses, the only people they cared to “protect and serve” were themselves.

Categories: Center for Union Facts