When I was a young deputy just starting my career in the mid-’80s, I was not a member of any union. I really didn’t understand the value of unions, so I didn’t join. I made several mistakes and my lack of understanding about unions nearly cost me my job. One night, I was involved in a fight with an inmate. Not unusual back then, but this inmate was different. His mother was an U.S. attorney. On my day off, I got a call from my sergeant. “The FBI is here and they are interviewing all the inmates about your fight last night. You’d better consult your union,” he said.
As a young deputy, I didn’t know what to do, but I certainly regretted not joining the union. One of the basic and most important benefits of being part of a union is legal representation. I was up the proverbial creek! But I was lucky. The inmate I got in the fight with actually told the truth! I was cleared of any wrongdoing, thanks to his statements. Needless to say, I joined the union immediately after this incident.
Then, in the mid-’90s, I promoted to sergeant. I was supportive of unions but still didn’t really understand what they did. So I paid my dues like most everyone else. I wasn’t always happy with my union. In fact, many times I was very upset with them. Over my 30-plus-year career, I have had bad experiences with a variety of unions. When I was a detective, my union attorney was told not to testify on my behalf because the attorney’s boss felt it would damage the firm’s relationship with management if the attorney testified to what was said between them. Thanks for looking out for my best interest! (Note: The attorney was great, but the integrity of the firm was questionable.) Next, when I was trying to promote to lieutenant, I turned to another union that offered attorneys instead of labor representatives, thinking this would be to my advantage. I was wrong. The attorney made a legal mistake that took away my strongest appeal argument. My appeal was denied and it took me four more years to promote. I was not happy with that union.
Despite these personal experiences, I still had faith in unions. I understood the value of a unified front and strength in numbers even if they weren’t perfect. But I really had no idea what they did until I got involved in PPOA. I, like many of us, complained about our salaries. I recall someone saying, “Put your money where your mouth is and do something about it!” So I did. I joined the PPOA negotiating team. I was very happy with the negotiations and we did very well for our members. But I learned just how hard the union fights for its members and just how hard it is fighting against management.
Like a shark, I think the taste of blood might have whipped me into a frenzy. I actually enjoyed the challenge, but I only knew victory at that time. So I joined the PPOA Board of Directors to get more involved. Wow! What an eye-opener! I learned that PPOA was more than just contract negotiations and legal representation. They had a credit union, offered supplemental insurance, ran a charity, helped members in need and filed lawsuits on behalf of the membership. But what impressed me most was the vigor and effort that went into fighting for individual members against wrongdoing by managers and bad policies and practices. That is still true today.
Just as when I was a young deputy, some complain about their union and claim it doesn’t do anything. But they really don’t know what the unions have done because they are not engaged in their union. They misunderstand the power of the union and believe the union is there to get them out of trouble when they make mistakes: “The union is useless if it can’t get me out of trouble when I beat a guy senseless, take his drugs, sell them on the street for a little extra cash and sleep with the suspect’s girlfriend, promising her not to testify at trial … all on videotape.” Umm. Really? The highest-paid attorneys aren’t going to be able to save your job in a case like this!
I encourage every union member to get involved and learn more about your union. Go to our website, www.ppoa.com, and review all the benefits, successful legislation and litigation fought on behalf of our members and all cops. In fact, PPOA offers far more than most other similarly sized unions. We offer attorneys from many different law firms to avoid conflicts of interest and to give members more options. We have our own credit union, with four branches, and our own insurance company. We provide financial assistance such as financial planners and retirement seminars, wills and trusts, mortgage lenders and a free notary service. We have a deeply discounted online uniform store. We do it all with one of the lowest dues structures of any union. We have an active charitable foundation, the Star & Shield Foundation. Because of our reputation, management asks us for input and we sit on various commissions and task forces. We are active locally and statewide, as well as nationally defending this profession. With all that said, we are not miracle workers and we aren’t able to get everything we want for our members. But rest assured, we will always fight for our members.
Our strength, however, comes directly from our membership. Unity is the key to our success, and our power comes from the willingness of our members to stand together and fight as one. Management is aware of this. So are outside influences like big corporations and anti-pension supporters. Now is the time to stand together, more than at any other time in history. You don’t have to lead the charge but you all should be willing to help in some way. It might be by serving as a delegate and keeping your peers informed about union activity. It might be by wearing a union T-shirt and attending a rally. It might be by writing a letter to your legislator when your union asks. It might be by speaking at hearings or attending events. The point is, there are many ways to support your union in your own way.
WELCOME TO OUR NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
In the last issue of Star & Shield, I discussed the changing of the guard at PPOA as we bid farewell to Paul Roller, our executive director for the last 18 years. After an exhaustive search, we found the right person to step in where Paul left off. Wayne Quint, our new executive director, has extensive knowledge and background in law enforcement labor. Please be sure to read his first article in this issue of Star & Shield. I have known Wayne for many years and I am confident in his leadership. I know he will continue our tradition of “Professionals Representing Professionals” and ensure that PPOA maintains the highest standards of service to our members. Welcome aboard, Wayne!
For years, we have been complaining about the decline in morale in the Sheriff’s Department. Some improvements have been made, but the Department is nowhere close to where it should be. We are currently meeting with Sheriff McDonnell’s chief of staff to review our recommendations to improve morale based on the morale survey of our members. I am hopeful to get a few more, actually many more, items checked off to improve morale. These are a few big ones the Sheriff needs to focus on:
- Recruitment and hiring inefficiencies
- Promotional processes and selection for all ranks
- Career series for non sworn classifications such as custody assistants and security officers/assistants
Fixing these areas of concern is not monumental, but based on the speed at which they’re being addressed (or not), you would think they were. It will take strong leadership from the top. The Sheriff needs to commit to fixing these areas and demand that his subordinate executives complete the tasks quickly and with utmost priority (or replace them with people who can). The ball is in your court, Sheriff!