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Police unions "should be able to negotiate disciplinary stuff" to protect officers from unfair punishment, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said during an "Axios on HBO" interview.

Why this matters: Following last year's death of George Floyd during an arrest and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, law enforcement unions are at the center of a heated debate in the labor movement.

  • Racial justice leaders, the BLM movement and some unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO believe police unions don't belong in the labor movement because they use their collective bargaining powers to shield cops from accountability and block reform efforts.
  • They say it's inappropriate to negotiate leniency for police misconduct and that agreements make it hard to fire officers who abuse their power or mistreat vulnerable minorities.

Trumka pushed back, saying without the power to negotiate disciplinary actions, the outcomes could be "capricious" in ways unfair to officers.

  • Among the AFL-CIO's diverse federation is the International Union of Police Associations, which negotiates on behalf of some local police unions.
  • "Look, I came from a coal mine. My grandfather helped organize that coal mine and we didn't have any protection," Trumka said. "The employer did all the disciplinary stuff. And I could tell you, it was never fair and it didn't help in policing."

Yes, but: Police officers are authorized to carry guns and use lethal force in their jobs.

  • Progressive critics of police unions argue that to bargain over disciplinary proceedings for an officer who may have killed an unarmed Black man is a fundamentally different proposition than negotiating sanctions for a coal miner or a teacher.

Other highlights: During the interview, Trumka also defended his legacy in the labor movement amid a period of decline.

  • He pushed back aggressively against criticisms from younger union leaders that the movement under his watch has put too much money and focus into political donations and not enough into organizing.
  • On the fraught topic of school reopenings, he sided with the Chicago Teachers Union and dismissed comments from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that vaccinations need not be a prerequisite for teachers to return to classrooms.
  • Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a tentative deal today that would reopen schools for parents seeking in-school instruction.

Editor's Note: Updates with tentative deal for Chicago and its public school teachers.

Go deeper

Feb 7, 2021 - Axios on HBO

“Axios on HBO” exclusive: Top labor leader hits Democrats

Coming up on "Axios on HBO" at 6 p.m. ET/PT: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka criticizes Joe Biden for costing American jobs with his Keystone pipeline decision and former Presidents Obama and Clinton for slighting unions. 

  • Also on the show: Ex-Parler CEO John Matze and Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg.
  • Catch the full interview and much more on Sunday, February 7 at 6 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent. 

1 hour ago - Health
Axios Investigates

Documents reveal the secrecy of America's drug pricing matrix

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

American businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs, and the bills keep getting bigger. But some of the companies promising to help rein in those costs prevent employers from looking under the hood.

Why it matters: Documents provided to Axios reveal a new layer of secrecy within the maze of American drug pricing — one in which firms that manage drug coverage for hundreds of employers, representing millions of workers, obscure the details of their work and make it difficult to figure out whether they're actually providing a good deal.