A blue flu is a type of strike action undertaken by police officers in which a large number simultaneously use sick leave. A blue flu is a preferred strike action by police in some parts of the United States where police strikes are prohibited by law. At times, the matter goes to court, such as when officers need to undergo medical examination to prove genuine illness. A 2019 opinion piece in The New York Times contrasted blue flu with a strike, calling it "a quiet form of protest, with no stated principles or claim for public attention or sympathy." Unlike most strikes, blue flu tends to be focused and of short duration.
In the United States, one of the first cases of what was then legal, a strike by police officers, was stopped in 1919 by then-Governor Calvin Coolidge using the state's militia. President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers in 1981 in response to a strike. During the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the blue flu was a ubiquitous and highly effective tactic in Baltimore, Memphis, San Francisco, Cleveland, New Orleans, Chicago, Newark, New York and many other cities.
Between January 14 and January 19, 1971, around 20,000 New York City police officers refused to report for regular duty partly in response to dismissal of a lawsuit that would have increased pay for both police and fire fighters, and entitle them to back pay up to the point of their last negotiated contract. From December 23 to December 24, 1981, officers of the 1700-man Milwaukee Police Department abandoned their posts, citing disregard they claimed city officials showed for the police. From June 17 to 20, 2020, about 170 officers of the Atlanta Police Department staged a sick-out to protest the criminal charges brought against the officers involved in the killing of Rayshard Brooks.
Some of the common reasons for these actions are:
- discipline actions that they feel are unjust, such as in 2011, when NYC reduced numerous police officers' vacation days by ten when tickets they had issued were tossed as being incomplete. The police blamed the situation on having to fill out a form while amidst confronting the person being ticketed. Technology solved much of this by having scanners reduce the amount of information that had to be recorded manually.
- deadlocked contract talks, or frustration due to extended periods of working without a contract. These are sometimes made worse when mixed with ongoing budget cutbacks.
- work conditions perceived as unsafe.
- Calls for Police accountability or a perceived public critique of policing.
Sometimes the proclaimed reason masks something else, such as when enforcing an unpopular decision is claimed to be a contract violation.
In popular cultureEdit
In Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu, a novel based on the TV series Monk, the main character is given a chance to return to his city's police force during a labor dispute. It's distasteful to him that "he'll be a 'scab'." A blue flu strike was also a background premise to The Party's Over, a season 5 episode of CSI NY, aired in 2009.
- Spears, Richard (2008). McGraw-Hill's Essential American Slang. McGraw-Hill. p. 235. ISBN 0071589341.
- Cox, Steven (2013). Introduction to Policing. SAGE Publications. ISBN 1483321894.
- "blue flu". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- Rampell, Catherine (January 8, 2015). "NYPD should go ahead and strike". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- "Injunction ends a police strike". The New York Times. January 28, 1971.
- Jeremy W. Peters (June 26, 2002). "Michigan: Preventing 'Blue Flu'". The New York Times.
planning to take part in a 'sick-out' on Wednesday
- Barbara Ehrenreich; Gary Stevenson (January 14, 2019). "Opinion: It's Time for T.S.A. Workers to Strike". The New York Times.
- George Vecsey (May 7, 2010). "Walking Tentatively in Protesters' Shoes". The New York Times.
mysterious ailment that strikes police officers suddenly, overnight, during times of labor disagreements, causing them to miss a shift.
- "Around the nation: Safety Officers End Columbus Job Action". The New York Times. UPI. February 25, 1983.
returning to their jobs after two days of the blue flu.
- "Client violence toward children and youth services social workers". November 18, 1992. doi:10.1016/S0190-7409(97)00014-5.
caseworkers get 'blue fever'Cite journal requires
- McCartin, Joseph A. (January 14, 2009). "It's time for Federal Workers to get sick".
police get 'blue flu,' fire fighters the 'red rash,' and teachers 'chalk-dust fever.'
- Clare Sestanovich (January 6, 2015). "A Short History of Police Protest: From Calvin Coolidge to Bill de Blasio". The Marshall Project.
- Andrew, Grim (July 1, 2020). "What is the 'blue flu' and how has it increased police power?". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
- Shepherd, Katie (June 18, 2020). "Atlanta police call in sick to protest murder charge against officer who shot Rayshard Brooks". The Washington Post.
- Almasy, Steve; Young, Ryan; Sayers, Devon M. (June 18, 2020). "Atlanta police shortages continue for second day". CNN. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
- Kirk Johnson (September 23, 1991). "Three Killed in New Haven During a Sickout by Police". The New York Times.
angered by .. city's Police Chief ... disciplinary proceedings against two officers involved in the killing of a drug suspect .. had been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing ..the police officers' union voted .. to ask the chief to resign.
- "'Blue Flu' Hits Policemen". The New York Times. AP. January 14, 1971.
- "'Blue Flu': Expensive Epidemic". Los Angeles Times. June 1, 1994.
working without a contract or pay raise since 1991 .. the last three years
- The closure of "nearly 100" Irish police stations due to budgeting reasons even as the murder of a Detective was still an open matter: Hugh O'Connell (February 4, 2013). "'It's not on' - Garda Commissioner critical of work-to-rule, 'blue flu' threats".
the issue of station closures ... is an emotive issue
- German Lopez (December 31, 2014). "New York City police officers are protesting by refusing to work. It's not the first time". Vox Media.
'From the police point of view, they are working a very, very dangerous job,' Thompson said
- Rice, Josie Duffy (August 25, 2020). "The Abolition Movement". Vanity Fair. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
Calls for accountability are often met with indignance and threats to desert those most affected by crime. The practice of officers, at the slightest sign of public critique, calling in sick en masse and refusing to do their jobs has long been called 'blue flu.'
- John Kifner (September 8, 1975). "Guardsmen in Boston for Busing Today". The New York Times.
contention that the contract has been broken by a change of shifts and overtime orders ... Night shift officers have complained .. will lose their night differential if they work overtime during the day.
- Lee Goldberg. "Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu".