This series is written to illustrate the history of the Milwaukee Police Association (MPA). The goal is that as you read you will gain an understanding of the struggles and successes police unions, specifically your union, has endured throughout the decades.
Before we can discuss the history of the MPA we must first discover how and why police unions came to exist.
As early as 1897 a group of special police in Cleveland, Ohio, petitioned the American Federation of Labor (AFL) for a charter. The AFL refused to grant them a charter and opposed the unionization of police.They stated that it was not within their movement to especially organize policemen, nor more than to organizemilitiamen, as both policemen and militiamen are often controlled by forces inimical to the labor movement".(Heustis, 1958, p. 643) Between 1897 and 1919 the AFL rejected all applications received from police forcesIn June 1919, they finally reversed their position and favored the organization of City policemen, and in Augustthey granted a union charter to a Boston policemen's organization. (Heustis, 1958, p. 643) Although the AFLrefused to grant charters prior to 1919 some City police organizations existed as early as 1895, and the biggestpolice labor organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, came into existence in 1915.
Thus, began the first of two major campaigns to unionize. The first began after World War I when the AFL reversed its position and granted Boston its charter. When this occurred, many chiefs condemned the move. The chiefs believed that officers could not be loyal to any union and maintain the neutrality that is needed in policing. Most police officers did not take into consideration what the chiefs were saying because they were losing money due to the inflation caused by the war and the cost of living. Rank and file members were fed up with the authority's lack of care for them. Many chiefs of police admitted that the salaries of the rank and file were well behind the cost of living but did not help them get raises. The rank and file felt the unions could do just that and unionism rose in many cities. However, this was short a lived success for the unions.
In Washington, the Commissioner ordered officers to quit the union or get fired. The union was able to get a temporary injunction against any officer being fired. In Boston, the Chief of Police would not recognize the Boston Police Union (BPU), restricted officers from joining, and filed charges against union officials. The Chief suspended numerous officers after a settlement was reached with a citizen committee that recognized the BPU, although they asked that the BPU give up its charter. The suspensions caused about three quarters of the rank and file to go on strike. The strike led to a night of riots and looting before the militia and the remaining rank and file intervened. It took four days to restore order and when it was over, four people lost their lives and there was almost a million dollars in damages to store and property owners. (Heustis, 1958)
Afterwards, Governor Calvin Coolidge ordered the dismissal of over 1100 officers that were out on strike and a new force was recruited. Of the strike, Governor Coolidge remarked, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, at any time". (Houstis, 1958)