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Toxic union culture

I love my job. I honestly do. I love helping people that reach out to us, I love the intellectual interaction with my amazing coworkers and getting up every day to work for something I truly believe in. This has not always been the case in my career. I’ve had several jobs with awful managers or difficult coworkers that have felt a little toxic—and most of these were government jobs where public sector unions dominated. When I talk to government employees these days it seems like this problem has grown and that many of them are completely burned out.

This seems to be especially true for women. Women are leading “the great resignation,” and this could have serious repercussions for fields dominated by women—like education, childcare, and the service industry. There is something else these fields have in common—they are all heavily unionized. One wonders if unions play a role in making the workplace harder for women. Does the constant tension between the union and the employer create a toxic workplace? Do unions, with their constant complaining, make people feel more negatively about their jobs? Perhaps this toxicity contributes to women wanting to get out of these careers.  

In Minneapolis, teachers were recently on strike, once again shuttering schools. But most of the school board members, who the union was negotiating against, were supported by the teachers union when they ran for election. Why isn’t their financial support ever enough to pay off for teachers? During the strike, the union held a rally at the school board members’ homes. One board member—who is a former teacher and local union leader—resigned from the school board after the protest.

Talk about toxic.

Recently, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, held a webinar where she complained about how divided and politicized our nation is becoming. Not once did she acknowledge her own role and her union’s role in making the country—and classrooms—more divided. Every year the AFT gives money to interest groups who run negative ads during elections. Weingarten advocates for divisive material to be taught in the classroom, and spoke out against parents’ rights during the Virginia gubernatorial election. Her actions do not make teachers’ lives easier.

What an exhausting rollercoaster ride—no wonder people want to get off. I would love to see the unions stop making life more difficult for public employees and instead let them just enjoy doing their jobs.

Brigette Herbst

Brigette Herbst is the Senior Organizing Director of Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2018, Brigette’s career included working in the public sector for New York State, teaching elementary school, coaching high school sports, and working as a municipal county employee. This unique experience offers Brigette an inside perspective on public employee culture in New York. She focuses on educating New Yorkers about their constitutional rights with regard to union membership and promoting fair treatment of workers. Brigette has her bachelor’s degree in history and politics and her master’s degree in elementary education. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and planning trips for her family.