Marty Hiller for Common Council

Statement about Police Benevolent Associations:

Updated in response to the Tompkins County Worker’s Center statement on PBAs.

I’ve been asked by constituents to clarify my position on police benevolent associations (also called PBAs, or police unions,) in the aftermath of this past week’s unsolicited and unwanted intervention in my campaign from a state-level police-affiliated organization. I sent a press release about it to the Ithaca Voice, which was held for a couple days while they put together an article about the situation.

I believe the purpose of unions is to maintain a balance of power between labor and management, so when they come to the negotiating table the conversation requires a give-and-take, instead of one side calling all the shots. Depending on the situation, it’s possible for either union or management to hold too much power. For example, a union that is barely able to hold its own against a Walmart-sized organization could easily crush a small business owner. So when you evaluate the power and behavior of a union, the context must be taken into account.

But is a PBA a union? That question is under debate as we discuss public safety reform. I believe PBAs across the nation have served another, non-union role, in addition to their role in collective bargaining. The routine abuse of power in PBAs to hide misconduct and protect its perpetrators is destructive to society. One of the central goals of public safety reform is to address this problem, to ensure that public safety officers fully recognize the need for integrity in their dealings with the public, and act to police their own.

This past decade of stand-off between the City and the Ithaca PBA, followed by an explicitly stated goal of dissolving the department and starting over, has a union-busting quality to it. Whether it’s actually union-busting or not depends on whether you consider the PBA a union. But in either case, it clearly has the purpose of shifting the balance of power between the two entities. To the extent that it’s necessary to bring them to the table on police misconduct and accountability, and on the purpose, practices, and goals of public safety activity, I believe it’s justified. However, we should be careful in the process not to infringe the legitimate right of public safety employees to bargain collectively.

I also believe, after my experience this past week, that this state-level organization is not acting in a way that’s beneficial either to the local PBA or to our local community. I appreciate the capacity of a union-of-unions to provide guidance and moral support to member organizations in distress, but when a large-scale organization attempts to wield their own power to augment the power of a local one, the result is confusing and damaging to everyone involved. Municipalities and local PBAs are “right-sized” for each other, and when a state-level organization steps in, the result is destabilizing.

Ithaca is unfortunately in the national spotlight right now, because of the large-scale publicity surrounding our public safety reforms. As a newcomer to politics, I was unprepared for the impact this might have on my campaign. I’m engaged in a learning process, and I was not expecting my first exploratory conversation with the head of our local PBA to cause such enormous waves.

In the News:

I’m running for Common Council to lend my voice and practical leadership skills to a more progressive community agenda. My top priorities are recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic, improving public safety by shifting our focus toward crisis care and prevention, finding more effective solutions to our affordable housing challenges, and furthering our Green New Deal. I have a long history in community service, from past participation at Ecovillage at Ithaca and White Hawk to my current work, helping to achieve a secure long-term home for the Ithaca Community Gardens. Systemic inequities play an important role in all of our community challenges, and addressing those inequities must be a part of any lasting solution.