The Stand

AFL-CIO: Public Safety Blueprint for Change

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 18, 2021) — The AFL-CIO on Friday posted its Public Safety Blueprint for Change, a report from the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice‘s subcommittee on policing, that intends to be “a mechanism for true community engagement with public safety professionals.” The goal is “to build productive, positive and trusting community relationships, and to have the working professionals who provide public safety daily be a driving force for meaningful reforms grounded in equity, inclusion and racial justice.”

Below are the introduction and conclusion of that report. Download the full report here.

April Sims, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, serves on the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice and co-chairs a different subcommittee on Reimagining Federated Bodies.

 

PUBLIC SAFETY BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGE

NOTE: The AFL-CIO has 13 affiliate unions who represent law enforcement professionals. The AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice convened a subcommittee on policing to provide a venue for union members in law enforcement, and their representatives, to develop recommendations on issues of public safety reform. The group expanded to include representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), both of which represent law enforcement officers. This Public Safety Blueprint for Change is written by and from the perspective of unionized law enforcement officers and leaders, and endorsed by the participating unions and the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice.


The labor movement, as an integral part of our communities and the representative of many law enforcement officers, has a unique role to play in changing public safety. This Public Safety Blueprint for Change, based on our expertise, experience and aspirations, is our contribution to the public safety reform debate in America today. The fundamental goal of this blueprint is to build productive, positive and trusting community relationships, and to have the working professionals who provide public safety daily be a driving force for meaningful reforms grounded in equity, inclusion and racial justice.

There is no denying that our society is at a crossroads in the relationship between our communities and America’s law enforcement. In the summer of 2020, after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police, the simmering pot of tension with law enforcement and communities of color boiled over, leading to mass protests and marches across the country. Union members and our allies took to the streets to express the outrage and hurt that our communities have felt and experienced.

For far too long, people in positions of power—elected leaders and other decision-makers—stood idle while communities suffered under a system designed to benefit those with wealth and power at the expense of everyone else. By allowing this system to fester from our nation’s conception, institutions that rely on community trust—such as America’s police departments—became more and more disjointed from the communities they are charged with serving. This has been exacerbated by a culture in law enforcement that has discouraged the professionals doing the job correctly every day from calling out their peers whose actions are a detriment to maintaining peace and safety, the profession and the community relationships needed for success. Systemic racism has been used throughout history as a tool by those in power to divide workers, leading to the “us vs. them” mentality that is dominating today’s political and social unrest.

With union members experiencing these tensions in our nation firsthand, and the labor movement the single best vehicle for bringing police and community together, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, along with labor leaders from across the country, formed the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice.1

As public safety reform efforts are being considered in states, cities and the U.S. Congress, a key voice is missing from the conversation—labor. The AFL-CIO has 13 affiliate unions who represent law enforcement professionals. The AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice convened a subcommittee on policing to provide a venue for law enforcement worker perspectives on issues of public safety reform. Task Force Chair and United Steelworkers (USW) International Vice President Fred Redmond, along with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, lead the subcommittee. The group expanded to include representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), both of which represent law enforcement officers, to give labor a unified voice on this issue.

There is broad agreement among organized labor that meaningful public safety reforms are needed, and we must re-imagine the construct and relationship that law enforcement has with the communities we serve. Public safety professionals, and our unions, have a duty to call out the wrong-doers and actions that harm people in our communities and, in doing so, the integrity of our profession. We can no longer stand idly by, or defend transgressors, when those who fail to uphold their oath and duty take actions that stain the work of law enforcement.

We must use our unions to advocate for meaningful reform that keeps communities and public safety professionals safe. All workers, including law enforcement officers, are entitled to a union and the right to bargain collectively. This is the cornerstone of the labor movement and a key American value that will play a critical role to advance meaningful reform.

This blueprint is a mechanism for true community engagement with public safety professionals. Effective and efficient public safety depends on securing the confidence, support and partnership of local communities, and engaging with those communities to develop and support initiatives that make for a safe and harmonious place to live for all people. Public safety agencies and communities should partner to solve problems and enhance quality of life in a manner that is fair, impartial, transparent and consistent.

To achieve these goals, we are focusing on understanding cultural impacts, as well as implicit, conscious and unconscious biases, accepting that all community interactions contribute to law enforcement’s “legitimacy in the eyes of the public that [they] are sworn to protect.” As members of the community, we must respect and promote all forms of diversity while advocating for services and resources needed for our neighbors and all those touched by the criminal justice system. If we wish to benefit from the highest degree of trust, confidence, support and participation from our communities, we must always serve with honesty and integrity and adhere to the highest standard of professional conduct and compassion. America is a diverse society and the labor movement is a reflection of that diversity. Additionally, we must do everything in our power to dismantle the systemic racism that has plagued our nation since its birth.

We are servants of America’s founding principles, which include that all people are created equal, and we seek allegiance with every individual, leader and organization wanting to make change. We welcome all to walk with us on this journey of discovering a new vision of implementing public safety for all.

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