Renewed Calls to Expel Rochester Police Union from Labor Council in Wake of Pepper Spray Incident

by DARIEN LAMEN


Calls are growing for the Rochester Area Labor Council to remove the Rochester Police Locust Club from its ranks.


On Tuesday evening, local racial justice organization Free the People ROC released a public letter calling on the Rochester Area Labor Council of the AFL-CIO to formally break ties with the Rochester Police Union.


"We call on our brothers and sisters in the labor movement, whose historic contributions to social and economic progress are immeasurable, to take this next step in the fight against racism and remove the Locust Club from their ranks."


"From their origins as slave patrols in the South and strike-breakers in the North, police have, from their inception, been a tool of racist class domination," the letter continues.


"The Locust Club has long been a barrier to justice by protecting officers who kill defenseless citizens, brutalize children, and dehumanize Black and Brown members of our community. They uphold none of the values that labor fights for and routinely ally themselves with powerful institutions that oppress working people. We urge you to do what is right and just, and break ties with the Rochester Locust Club."


The open letter comes in the wake of an incident in which RPD officers used physical force, handcuffs, and pepper-spray on a 9-year-old girl in distress.


Rochester Police Union President Mike Mazzeo has defended the officers' actions during that encounter.


During a press conference Sunday, Mazzeo said, "We’re dealing with a very difficult situation and what officers are confronted with and face and the very limited resources that are out there."


"It's not TV. It's not Hollywood. We don’t just have a simple put someone in handcuffs and have them comply," Mazzeo said.


On Wednesday morning, a group of union members within the Rochester Teacher's Association issued a statement echoing Free the People's call to expel the Locust Club from the Labor Council.


"It is not enough to offer statements of solidarity or to simply say 'Black Lives Matter,'" write the members of RORE, a rank-and-file caucus of union members employed by the Rochester City School District.


"RTA President Adam Urbanski has said that '[Rochester teachers and their union] stand in solidarity with all who insist that racial justice becomes a reality.' We therefore ask President Urbanski to stand with Free the People ROC in their call to remove the Rochester Police Locust Club from the Rochester Labor Council."


The Rochester Labor Council has not yet responded to these calls, or to last week's pepper-spray incident.


The Labor Council is made up of 40 delegates from unions representing around 60,000 workers across Monroe County. Those unions include public sector workers such as police officers and teachers, as well as building and construction trades, among others.


Last fall, the Rochester Labor Council unanimously approved a resolution expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But any internal discussions about whether to expel the police union from the house of labor never materialized in a resolution.


On the national level, the push to expel dues-paying law enforcement unions from the AFL-CIO would likely face significant pushback from national leadership and member unions representing law enforcement, corrections officers, and others.


But the Rochester Area Labor Council has proven itself willing to "lead from below" in the past, as for example when it passed a resolution last November calling on the national AFL-CIO to consider a general strike if former President Trump refused to leave office, a move that sources say prompted state and national leadership to try to rein in the Rochester council.


But in a sign that the tide of organized labor could eventually turn against police unions, even individuals with deep ties to organized labor have been willing to speak out against the Locust Club in the wake of last week's pepper spray incident.


In a Tweet Sunday, NYS Assemblymember Demond Meeks, a former union organizer for 1199 SEIU, called for the RPD officers involved in the pepper-spray incident to be fired.


"Police contract be dammed, I want these police officers fired TODAY," Meeks tweeted. "There is no excuse to mace a 9-year-old girl, a child who was helplessly handcuffed & in your control. Enough with the platitudes & enough w/ 'good intentions,'" Meeks added, in an apparent reference to the statements Mike Mazzeo made during the Rochester Police Union press conference Sunday. "Action today," Meeks said.


RPD Interim Chief Cynthia Elliott-Sullivan has suspended 3 officers involved in the pepper-spray incident with pay pending an internal investigation.


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DARIEN LAMEN is news director/producer for Reclaiming the Narrative. He can be reached at wxirnews@gmail.com.

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