Monday, January 7, 2008

"The Wire" Misunderstands Public Sector Labor Law

634272_daniels_ep51_252In my humble opinion, the HBO series "The Wire" has been the best thing on TV in the past four years.  Relevant here, an overarching theme in the second season of "The Wire" focused on a union leader on the docks of Baltimore.  The show depicted the leader and his union in a thoughtful, complex, and nuanced manner:  it raised issues of union corruption but also portrayed sympathetically and accurately the struggles of working class folks faced with de-industrialization and loss of work.  I highly recommend it.

So I was looking foward to last night's season premiere of the fifth (and, sadly, final) season of "The Wire."  While it looks to be another great set of episodes, I feel it is my duty to point out the following serious mistake regarding U.S. labor labor law.  [Alert:  this doesn't spoil anything significant to the plot of the show].

In an early scene, members of a police department are complaining about budget cuts causing them various problems, including not being paid overtime properly.  While this situation is sadly realistic, one of the police officer characters then says, essentially:  "our union rep says we might have to take this to the NLRB."

But of course this was a police department, a public employer, and thus of course it wouldn't be the NLRB, because the NLRA only covers private sector employees.

The moral:  everyone should learn more about public sector labor relations.  And maybe stay away from drugs and drug dealers too, but at least as importantly, learn more about public sector labor relations.

--Joe Slater

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I agree, of course, with this point and I thought the same thing last night while watching the season premiere of "The Wire." However, I don't think saying "we're going to take this to the Maryland Labor Relations Board" would have had the same punch. With that said, had the character said we're going to take this to the MLRB, he would have been both punchy and factually accurate.

Posted by: Lou | Jan 7, 2008 7:53:39 PM

I thought the same thing. And he could have easily said, "we're going to file an unfair labor practice" to the same effect, without naming any agency.

Posted by: landismom | Jan 8, 2008 5:51:15 AM

It's kind of amusing to think of labor law folks across the country, all excited about watching the season premiere, simutaneously thinking (or in my case, saying out loud to my wife), "hey, that's not right!"

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jan 8, 2008 7:46:14 AM

If they are not being paid overtime properly under 7(k) of the FLSA, they need to take their case to the Department of Labor, not the NLRA or the Maryland equivalent.

Posted by: dmh | Jan 8, 2008 12:52:31 PM


True (although they could sue directly in court also). It also occurred to me that if they weren't being paid overtime properly purusant to their contract, it would more likely be a grievance/arbitration matter than a ULP. But I didn't want to get too excessively nerdy about this.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jan 8, 2008 8:32:18 PM

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