Unionized Versus Non-Unionized Jobs

One issue that new-hires in law enforcement are powerless to control, and that can affect your benefits, is whether or not the agency operates under a union contract. There are many unions across the country that represent law enforcement officers in labor relations with the agency's management. The International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO) and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME—part of the AFL-CIO, or Teamsters), are among those unions that have contractual agreements with various law enforcement agencies. AFSCME is the nation's largest public service employees union and has more than 1.4 million members.


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Union contracts protect employees by using the resources and strength of the union to negotiate fair contracts, win wage increases, and settle employee-employer grievances. The union can often exclude representation of rookies during their initial months or first year of service. Most law enforcement agencies require a probation that covers the preliminary training and break-in period. At any time during this probation period, new agents can be dismissed without articulated cause. This provision in labor law presumes that a critical flaw in character or inability to perform the job will surface during the initial probation period. Often these do. But more often, the candidate is successful in her performance and able to complete the probation phase without incident.

Once an officer or agent is beyond their probation, they are usually allowed to join the union and be afforded its protection and benefits. Some agencies have what are known as closed-shop contracts. These agreements mandate union membership for rank and file personnel after completion of their probation. Open-shop contracts are those with no such mandate, allowing for voluntary membership in the union. There are arguments for and against an agency being union or non-union, and participation in such organizations is purely up to the candidate. Researching the agency before application can be extremely helpful in averting a big surprise after being hired.

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