Report: State law blocks public employees from discipline and accountability

Albany County
Police body cam

An NYPD officer wears a newly-issued body camera in April 2017. (AP / Mary Altaffer)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A new report released Thursday by the Empire Center for Public Policy outlines ways union contracts negotiated through public-sector collective bargaining have corrupted laws that were originally meant to shield workers from improper firing.

According to the report, “Double Insulation: How New York Law Shields Public Employees From Accountability,” elected officials have given up or lost most power related to employee discipline. In particular, the report examines whether it’s possible for police reform measures to do enough to address issues resurfaced after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Empire Center fellow Ken Girardin, who wrote the report, describes the “self-inflicted obstacles that prevent elected leaders from holding” public employees—including teachers, health care workers, bus drivers, fire fighters, and law enforcement—accountable. “Any worker accused of misconduct or incompetence deserves fair treatment,” Girardin says, “but New York’s public-sector discipline system is fundamentally broken.”

According to the report:

  • Arbitration rules in union contracts protect employees who commit violence or other extreme acts of misconduct
  • State law makes discipline artificially and prohibitively expensive
  • Mayors cannot discipline police officers because of arbitrary factors like the population or to the age of the town charter

Girardin also proposed steps to increase transparency and accountability around the discipline process:

  • Prohibit bargaining for discipline
  • Give elected officials and their designees the last word in discipline
  • Provide professional hearing officers for local governments and school districts
  • Disclose records, contracts, and statistics
  • Share the cost of discipline by reforming release time

The Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, is an independent, nonprofit think-tank focused usually focused on economic policy. Although the Empire Center describes itself as nonpartisan, watchdog groups generally classify it as a conservative-leaning organization.

Take a look at the Empire Center’s 16-page report:


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