One potential for helping solve the problem of police brutality, as discussed in this question is to curb the power that police unions currently hold.

As it stands, disciplinary measures are subject to collective bargaining. This has been known to result in impunity for police brutality.

Is this something that the US President would be able to overrule?

  • 1
    When you refer to restrictions, are you talking about restrictions on the existence of labour unions, restrictions on what they can and cannot negotiate with their employers, or restrictions on how they can negotiate with their employers (ex. threatening strikes)?
    – Joe C
    Jun 13, 2020 at 9:40

2 Answers 2


Not without the approval of Congress.

29 USC §158(d) defines collective bargaining as follows (emphasis mine):

For the purposes of this section, to bargain collectively is the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, or the negotiation of an agreement, or any question arising thereunder, and the execution of a written contract incorporating any agreement reached if requested by either party

Of course, matters of discipline can be reasonably considered a part of the terms and conditions of employment, and so can be subject to collective bargaining with any union.

To change this definition, be it for one union or all unions, would require a new Act of Congress to be passed, amending this subchapter of the United States Code.

  • -1 The NLRA does not apply to state or local employees, who are specifically excluded from coverage by 29 USC 152(2). State and local police unions are governed exclusively by state and local law.
    – cpast
    Aug 10, 2020 at 22:45

Back in 1981, Ronald Reagan used his executive power to order striking air-traffic controllers back to to work, after negotiations between their union, PATCO (Professional Air-Traffic Controllers), and the Federal government fell through. Those controllers who refused to return to work after 48 hours were fired and blacklisted. After a few months of headaches — strikes, airport slowdowns, etc — the strike ended and the union dissolved entirely. The blacklists were lifted in the '90s by Clinton, and air-traffic controllers eventually formed a new union to represent them, but I think the point is clear.

Police unions generally negotiate with state or local governments, not the Federal government, but the same principle applies. If a president were to write an executive order that (say) restricts the use of certain provisions in police contracts, then local governments and police unions would have to renegotiate contracts or be in open defiance of the order. At very least, that would create grounds for lawsuits, and while the president does not have to power to hire or fire non-federal law enforcement personnel, he does have executive power over Federal funds and resources that local police departments rely on, which could be restricted in districts that fail to comply with the executive order. It would be a contentious move, but not without precedent.

It's obviously unlikely that Trump would write such an executive order — even on the most generous reading Trump favors law enforcement and opposes Federal oversight — but the tactic is not unthinkable for a president who would be inclined that way.

  • Even if he did sign such an order (or a future president did) there is little chance it would stand up in a court of law. And I would like to think that the EO in 1981 was different as it just was in relation to the air traffic controllers returning to work to keep air traffic flowing and was not related to how they actually negotiated
    – Joe W
    Aug 10, 2020 at 16:12
  • “Police unions generally negotiate with state or local governments, not the Federal government, but the same principle applies.” The same principle would be a city or state making such a decision. The President has literally no power to do so. State and local governments are not branches of the federal government and do not answer to the President.
    – cpast
    Aug 10, 2020 at 22:43

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