Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: June 17, 2016
– By Jennifer Foley, POJ Editor
A favorite phrase of POLC/GELC Director Richard Weiler’s seems to say it all when speaking of his noteworthy career at the helm of the Union — Weiler “grabbed the bull by the horns.”
When Weiler assumed the Director’s position at Police Officers Labor Council in 1984, it looked a lot different than it does today. The POLC had 1,800 members. It was just beginning a relationship with an outside lawfirm. There were only six labor representatives. The organization’s finances needed help, and the union was soliciting donations to make ends meet.
Fast forward 32 years later – as Weiler looks back on his career as POLC Director, he has a lot to be proud of. Under his leadership, membership nearly tripled; there are nearly twice as many labor representatives; legal counsel is on staff; membership services have expanded; and finances are handled by an outside accounting firm. He took the reigns and helped establish the non-profit public safety program known as Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) and a sister union, Government Employees Labor Council (GELC), which represents non-Act 312 employees. Finally, Weiler brings membership concerns to the masses through an effective legislative lobbying firm, Karoub Associates, and via his participation on several law enforcement boards.
Weiler got his start in labor relations as a Detroit Police Department (DPD) Patrolman when he served in numerous union positions including his last as Secretary/Treasurer of the Detroit Police Officers Association (DPOA), a full-time union elected position. He knew the first and former Labor Council Director Joe Clark pretty well and heard he was going to give up his directorship and move up to northern Michigan.
“He was President of Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants,” Weiler said. “I had contacts with the Labor Council because I was heavily involved in labor so I was asked if I would interview for this position.”
Weiler retired from DPD, accepted the position and the transformation began. Now the Union has some 4,600 members and counting and the GELC has grown to about 900 members since it’s inception in 1989. Weiler is responsible for POLC’s day-to-day operations, as well as execution of any and all actions approved by the POLC Executive Committee.
“We only had a handful of reps at that time. Because we expanded I had to hire reps,” Weiler said of the Union’s current 11 representatives. “All the reps we currently have I’ve hired.”
“One of the problems I had when I first came here is getting all the finances on track. We had a different book keeping system. The first thing I did was hire a CPA because we had to file a tax return. They never filed a tax return,” Weiler said. “(Attorney) John Lyons was just hired by the Labor Council when I got there. We came on board basically the same time. Our membership grew really because a lot of his clients he turned over to us. When he first started, it was John Lyons PC and later we integrated his staff over here.”
Over the years he has watched as the labor issues came in cycles. “Early issues were pay raises, improving pensions, all economics, and then in the 90s the problems started to come up with health care,” Weiler said. “Employers started taking more of a look at what the health care costs were and started attempting to charge employees health care premiums which was kind of unheard of in public safety at that time.”
The cost of public pensions came under attack next in the 2000s. “Employers wanted to go from a DB plan to a DC plan. There are major differences,” he said. “You know your benefits in DB and DC money is given to you and you have to go invest it yourself. DB plans have a duty disability provision and with that normally comes health care. With a DC plan, it doesn’t come like that at all. Those are still major issues of today.
“Between all this stuff you have the mean-spirited Republicans, who for the past 10 years have passed all these laws against public employees and made it harder for you to survive,” he said. “They don’t want public employees to be vocal about who to elect and who not to elect. They want to diminish gains made through collective bargaining.”
When this article was being written the POLC/GELC Executive Committee was interviewing candidates for Weiler’s position. Weiler says his replacement has his work cut out for him. “With all the anti-labor laws passed by Michigan legislature, it’s a tougher job today and it’s going to be tougher tomorrow,” Weiler said. “They’re going to keep hammering away to erode what labor has. It definitely has a major drastic change in your benefit levels. You have to resist and you’ve got to fight and that’s all legislative issues, it’s all politics.
“It matters who’s in office because cops generally want to vote Republican, but you get favorable economic legislation out of Democrats,” Weiler said. “It changed quite frankly after Ronald Reagan. He started the change with the air traffic controllers.” Weiler was referring to Reagan’s threat to fire striking air traffic controllers who did not return to work within 48 hours. “Little by little Congress and everybody was after labor issues. The Supreme Court is trying to make us all Right to Work. It matters who’s in office and who’s in the courts.”
To further the POLC’s influence on law enforcement legislation, Weiler contacted some of the other union leaders he knew. The POLC joined forces with several other Michigan unions as the founding members of Michigan Association of Police Organizations (MAPO) in 1991. Other founding members were: DPOA, headed up by Tom Schneider; Michigan Association of Police, headed up by Fred Timpner; Detroit Police Lieutenant and Sergeants Association (DPLSA) led by John Storm; Michigan State Police Trooper Association (MSPTA) led by Scott Reinacher; and Michigan State Police Command Officers Association (MSPCOA) led by Stephen DeBoer. POLC also joined the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) through Weiler’s association with NAPO Executive Secretary Bob Scully of the DPOA.
“What we needed was a legislative voice in Congress to help us with police issues that impact everybody throughout the country,” Weiler said.
Weiler represents the POLC as Chairman of MAPO’s Executive Board; was appointed by the governor to serve on Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) Executive Board; is Chairman of Sterling Heights GERS Pension Board; member of COPS Trust Board of Trustees; and serves as NAPO’s Executive Board’s Area Vice President, Parliamentarian, By-Law Chairman and sits on their Finance Committee.
Weiler knew Norbert Jablonski, a former Hamtramck Police Officer and member/officer of another State police organization. “Norbert was very involved in police matters and solicitations for benefits of police and fire in the state of Michigan,” Weiler said. He got to know his son Dale, who owned a public relations and marketing business. Weiler worked with The Dale Corporation in Madison Heights to establish the non-profit 501(c)(3) public safety program LEEP in 1997.
The POLC had supplemented their income with solicitations, but Dale said donors wanted tax write-offs for their contributions and establishing the non-profit gave them that ability while the POLC was able to deliver free public safety programs with a strong focus on children. See www.leepusa.com for more information.
Weiler’s departure from the POLC/GELC is already being recognized as an historic event. “I enjoyed 12 years on the POLC Board working with you and it was a pleasure. As far as I was and am concerned, you, sir, are the POLC,” wrote David VanHouten, former Vice Chair of the Executive Committee, in an email to Weiler following the announcement. “When I retired in 2010, it was harder to leave the POLC Executive Board than it was my regular job I held for 30 years. So many good people, so many good times.
“I am both happy and sad to hear about your upcoming retirement. You deserve it and I am happy for you. I am sad that the voice and face of the POLC will no longer be there,” wrote VanHouten, Dispatch Manager at Calvin College Campus Safety.
Weiler will have a hard time saying goodbye to the people he’s come to know through the POLC. “I’ve enjoyed all the people that I’ve met, all the police and the majority of the Executive board people and all the employees,” he said. “I hired everybody and I get along with everybody and it’s a good crew.”
“What I’m not going to miss is the most stressful time for me — budget time,” Weiler said.
While he sees some good news on the horizon with recent raises for employees, increasing health care costs continue to be a concern. “The last three to five years we’re starting to get some small pay raises, 1.5 percent and lucky to get 3 percent, but it doesn’t make up for some of the things that arbitrators and employers have taken away from you,” Weiler said. “When the cost of health care goes up, it leaves it up the parties what their benefits levels are with the 80/20.”
Everyone who knows Weiler knows how much he enjoys golfing and traveling and that will continue in his retirement, but golfing causes him knee pain so he will limit his time on the course.
“I’ll probably do a little more traveling to see grandkids, but they’re getting older and they have schedules,” Weiler said. “I’m still probably going to keep all my options open because I’ve been doing this so long, it’s still in my blood. I told the Executive board that any assistance no matter when, I’ll be there to help them anytime. I’m a phone call away.”
“This is a foreign thing to me,” Weiler said of his retirement after nearly 50 years in law enforcement. “I’ve worked my entire life.”