In at least 42 states and the District of Columbia, law enforcement officers are granted the right to collectively bargain their terms of employment with their employers. This right is either explicitly statutorily recognized for law enforcement or covered by the state’s statutes for collective bargaining for all public employees. In states that do not have statutes, the right of law enforcement officers to collectively bargain may vary by local jurisdiction.
Most states use a two-pronged approach, first codifying the right to bargain followed by any restrictions which may apply. The most common restrictions states place on law enforcement officers is either explicitly or implicitly prohibiting them from striking.
In states that explicitly prohibit police from striking, such as Kentucky, statutory language often specifies, “no police officer of a consolidated local government shall engage in, and no police officer labor organization shall sponsor or condone any strike.” Implicit prohibitions on strikes occur in states like Vermont, where strikes by public employees are allowed unless “… it will endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the public.”
The less common approach is to grant and regulate collective bargaining rights by exclusion. For example, Virginia has statutory language clarifying that “nothing in this article shall be construed to prevent [public employees] from forming associations” to collectively bargain. This leaves the issue of collective bargaining for law enforcement officers up to local jurisdictions. Arkansas strictly prohibits all public employees from collective bargaining, but it excepts police officers from its definition of a “public employee” for the purposes of that specific statute.
NCSL has categorized the statutes into two categories: laws that grant the right of collective bargaining to police officers, and those that may restrict or regulate it. This database does not examine other aspects of labor law more broadly, such as union certification processes, elections, dues or negotiable items.
Using the Database
The database can be navigated by using state and subtopic filters. Text searching is available for statutory summaries or statutory language contained in the database. The map is also interactive and allows you to more quickly select multiple states to review―just hold down the control key to select more than one state. Use the reset button at the top left to clear all filters and start a new search. For a definition of each subtopic see the listing below.
Note that this database only contains statutory provisions that address each policy area. Case law, regulations or agency policy may further impact the current state of the law in each state. This database also does not address policies adopted by local jurisdictions or law enforcement agencies.