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Bargaining for unemployment

Collective bargaining—negotiating over contracts—is a powerful tool that unions use to extract things from employers. In the public sector it’s more complicated. If the union has donated money to the campaign of the person who they’re negotiating with, that person might feel like they have to give the union more than they can afford—even if it leads to tax increases or to putting a city or state in a precarious financial situation.

Two recent examples show how bargaining power can go too far in the public sector. In Sacramento this spring, the teachers went on strike. After eight days of no school, a deal was reached, but unfortunately, it was not realistic—the city couldn’t afford what the negotiators promised. The school district is now facing financial distress, which could ultimately lead to a state takeover of the district. It doesn’t help teachers when their union makes demands and promises that will bankrupt a school district. That could lead to more teacher layoffs and potential school closures. Then, no one wins.

In New York, driven by pressure from the unions, the state enacted changes to the pension system in the most recent budget. Lawmakers rolled back some of the changes they made in 2012 when they added an additional “tier” to the pension system for new employees. The goal of creating a new tier was lessening the burden on municipalities for pension costs. So, while employees were asked to pay slightly more toward their retirements, it ensured the solvency of the system. The changes made this year will make the pension system less secure for all New York retirees. Everyone wants to retire with the best pension possible, but if you bankrupt the system, there won’t be any pensions at all. New York should instead focus on keeping the promises made to public sector workers and not turn into states like New Jersey and Illinois.

Let’s not forget, public servants wear two hats—they’re both public employees and taxpayers. While it’s important that states and municipalities ensure their employees earn a fair wage and good benefits, unions should not make demands that could ultimately hurt employees and their neighbors.

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.