The last two years brought a public reckoning around public sector unions, the collective-bargaining groups that represent workers in government positions. Recent news reminds us of why.
Martin Gugino, 75, captured the attention of many people after he walked up to officers during a demonstration in Buffalo. Two officers then shoved him down.
An arbitrator—hired by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, the police union—announced last week that Officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe acted judiciously when they pushed Gugino to the pavement, after which point blood is seen gushing from his head as he lay on the sidewalk. Although it is unclear whether one or the other officer used more force to push Gugino, the video captures them pushing him in tandem as he falls backwards.
Jeffrey M. Selchick wrote that Gugino did not appear to be able to balance after the force was applied. He also noted that officers worried that Gugino might get too close to their skin in case they catch COVID-19.
Melissa D. Wischerath is an attorney representing Gugino and says, “It was an aerial exercise to avoid the world seeing.” Reason.
Video hereYou have the power to decide. However, the key issue is not making the right decision. It is its inevitability.
A core function of police unions—and of any union, really—is to defend their workers, even when that means sticking up for distasteful behavior. It becomes more difficult when the union must defend against the most egregious actions of the people who have the power and force to make the world go round.
Unions often try to discourage people from joining their ranks. Wischerath says that Buffalo is no exception. They literally “bargained away” the city’s ability to discipline. When employees are suspected of violating city policy, the municipality has an option to pursue private arbitration. Each entity will find an arbitrator who can make an inadmissible decision. Selchick, according Wischerath is known to be a notorious quantity. The union funded and selected Selchick in this instance. She says, “Even though you are aware it is coming, it’s still shockingly shocking to read.”
These kinds of things are not new. One year ago, Rochester cops pepper-sprayed and handcuffed nine-year-old girls. She was not accused of any criminal offense. According to the police union, such force is necessary in order to hold a child. Many such cases exist.
The left has been the main critic of police unions for the past couple years. But they aren’t the only collective-bargaining groups taking heat. The spotlight has also been directed at teachers unions, who have been accused of overplaying the hand by prolonging COVID-19-related measures such as remote learning. These two entities share a lot in common. They both have monopoly power over a public service and the tendency to prioritize themselves at direct cost of others. Sadly, many people don’t see the close Venn diagram in tribal politics.