(Memphis) They are the voice of the 2,000 Memphis police officers who make up their membership, but lately that voice is ruffling a lot of feathers.
The Memphis Police Association made headlines for putting up billboards saying the city is not concerned about crime, and it even hosted a job fair where officers could scout for jobs in other cities.
“I work for the members of the police Association who elected me,” said MPA President Mike Williams.
He makes no apologies for the approach he’s taking to bring attention to issues he says are being ignored, like the city investing millions in city buildings and projects, while cutting benefits to police.
When Williams challenged the crime numbers from the police department, Police Director Toney Armstrong pulled rank and threatened to pull union officers away from the union hall and put them back on the streets.
The union threatened to sue and things went back to normal.
Questions were raised about how much time top union leaders spend actually doing police work.
“I am a police officer. I am on duty right now,” said Williams.
Williams told us while you don’t see union leaders patrolling the streets day to day, that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing police work, like responding to officer involved shootings, going to schools and community organizations and managing police benefits for the city.
“There are different facets of police work. Every police officer is not assigned to a police car,” said Williams.
Mike Williams, MPA Vice President Essica Littlejohn and Secretary Jeffrey Herbison work from the Union Hall on Jefferson Avenue daily and represent 2,000 officers during hearings, City Council meetings, and events around the city.
“There are those trying to cast doubt on whether citizens get what they pay for, but I am telling you, they get more than they pay for with the services we give,” said Williams.
The Memphis Police Union has its own budget made up of the dues paid by its members.
Its 2012 tax filing shows a revenue of $2.3 million, with expenses of $1.9 million.
Though the union leaders work for the MPA, their police salaries are paid by you the tax payer, ranging from $59,000 to $71,000.
Twenty-five union workers also draw a stipend from the MPA, totaling $129,000.
That’s on top of city pay, and it’s not uncommon.
In Nashville, the Fraternal Order of Police Union leader works full-time at the union, representing about 1,600 officers, and is paid a stipend.
In Little Rock, with a police union of just about 500 members, the union leader serves part-time and spends most of his day working as an officer, but he admits it would be hard running a union four times as large, like Memphis, and not doing it on a full-time basis.
Memphis City Council Member Lee Harris sits on the Public Safety Committee.
He says unions play a vital role, because rank and file officers need representation.
“I think it’s a good idea for them to elect someone they have confidence in. I think their interests are very unique. I think sometimes the city takes advantage of them,” said Harris.
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong is a longtime member of the MPA and says he supports the union.
The city’s agreement with the union is now entangled in a court battle over the validity of the contract.
“We are waiting on that ruling and when that ruling comes, we will make the determination then on how we continue to utilize the people at the MPA in the same manner that we have or if we re-deploy them to the field,” said Armstrong.
The union says it’s happened before, leaders were pulled off the job and put back on patrol, but in those cases too, the court returned the union reps back to union hall.
The MPA’s lawsuit against the city over the validity of the union contract is set to go before Judge Hardy Mays on May 20, 2014.