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Historical Overview of Police Unionization in the United States

NCJ Number
Police Journal Volume: 61 Issue: 4 Dated: (October-December 1988) Pages: 334-343
M J Levine
Date Published
10 pages
This history of police unionization in the United States describes the early, formative years (1900-1930's), the period of World War II and the second attempt to unionize which continued into the 1950's and the period of the 1960's and the unrest that continued into the 1970's.
At the turn of the century, calls for police unions were occasioned by low pay and poor working conditions. The first campaign to organize police reached a peak with the Boston Police Strike in 1919. The aftermath of the loss of the first union campaign left benevolent and fraternal organizations for police officers to turn to for representation. A second union campaign in the middle years yielded a second union campaign that was again defeated by elected officials and police administrations. A new form of leadership occurred during the later years through the patrolman's benevolent associations in major cities. From this base, rank-and-file officers increased their lobbying and job actions. This ultimately weakened and reversed the political pressure against union recognition, with a major victory scored in New York City in 1964. This led other major jurisdictions to follow suit. Although the drives for unionization lost, the patrolman's benevolent association and the Fraternal Order of Police were transformed from pressure groups into labor unions. With over 70 percent of all rank-and-file officers covered by some form of collective bargaining agreement today, the trend toward formal recognition will continue to grow in the decade ahead, although with less intensity. Policy issues and management rights should be focal issues. 13 footnotes.


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