Police Union Loyal to Trump Despite DOJ Opposition to Union Fees

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By Jacquie Lee

The largest police union in the country isn’t letting the government’s opposition to public union fees sway its loyalty to the Trump administration, even after the Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ban public sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from nonmembers.

The Fraternal Order of Police opposes the Department of Justice’s view and plans to file a brief supporting the public sector union in the case, the union president told Bloomberg Law. However, FOP President Chuck Canterbury said he remains optimistic about the union’s relationship with this administration.

“We are a multi faceted organization and one issue will not change our relationship in any substantial way. We of course would have preferred them to back our stance but our members were aware that the republicans support right to work,” Canterbury wrote in an email Dec. 11. “They believe there are other issues that this administration will support their positions.”

Those include respect for law enforcement, civil asset forfeiture laws, health-care issues, and updating the way the DOJ handles its investigations into police departments, he said.

Public sector unions, such as those representing teachers and municipal employees, often oppose President Donald Trump because of his polarizing stances on social issues, health care, and immigration, making the FOP a rare supporter of Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Eugene O’Donnell, a New York police officer turned lawyer, said the FOP’S endorsement of Trump during the campaign makes the Justice Department’s opposition brief a “nuclear betrayal of America’s police.” O’Donnell is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The DOJ threw its support behind Mark Janus and two other Illinois state workers on Dec. 6. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, serves as an ideological battleground for right-to-work and union advocates who have fought for years over whether public sector unions should be able to deduct “agency fees” from the paychecks of workers who are covered by the bargaining agreement but aren’t members. Those fees are the lifeblood of public sector unions, labor advocates say.

Firefighters Silent

The other major public safety union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, didn’t endorse Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president, but the IAFF President, Harold Schaitberger, has since criticized unions for blindly supporting Democrats.

“They are in a frenzy that’s resulted in total opposition no matter the issue, while those on the ideological far right end of the political spectrum think he can do no wrong,” Schaitberger said in a speech in March. “But as for us, this great union of ours, we’re going to continue to do what we’ve always done. We’re going to put winning ahead of losing, put pragmatism ahead of ideology, while remaining faithful to our core union principles.”

Representatives from the IAFF didn’t reply to questions regarding the Justice Department’s stance on public unions and how it would affect their relationship with the Trump administration.

Will Membership Drop?

Police departments nationwide are already suffering from a recruitment crisis, O’Donnell said. “Now, you want to dismantle a system that has protected police officers, their due process rights,” he said. “This has extraordinary implications. It’s a potentially devastating blow.”

But the changes won’t be that dire, Canterbury, the FOP president, said.

“We don’t anticipate much drop in membership,” he wrote in an email Dec. 11.

Eric Fink, a professor who researches police unions at the Elon University School of Law, agrees.

“Even in places like North Carolina, where public sector unions have no collective bargaining rights and no fair share provision, my impression is that a large share of police officers and fire fighters join those unions anyway,” he told Bloomberg Law. That’s “probably related to the internal culture of those occupations,” he said.

—Ben Penn contributed to this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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