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What unions don’t tell you about collective bargaining

The following is an excerpt from our Saturday email, which includes our musings on the latest developments impacting public employees, links to that week’s labor news, and a collection of whimsical reads for your weekend. If you’d like to receive our weekly email, you can use the sign-up form at the bottom of this page. We promise to respect your inbox, and we will never share your email address.

Big Labor sells unionization as the be-all, end-all for workplace woes. But as much as they tell us that they will solve diversity problems, increase wages, or make the workplace more ‘woke,’ the reality is that all of that is left up to collective bargaining, which can leave much to be desired.
For instance, after unionization it takes an average of 465 days to sign the first contract. So, after that hard-fought effort, it will probably be a while until any of the union’s promises are realized (if at all).
Once there is a contract, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t include everything the union promised. Collective bargaining is just that–bargaining. The union won’t know what they can achieve through collective bargaining until they actually sit down at the table.
On top of that, contracts typically expire after three or four years, limiting flexibility. That might be why non-union pay is higher than unionized pay; wage increases can’t be quickly implemented because they need to go through the collective bargaining process first.
Collective bargaining units can include many different types of employees, which makes it difficult to meet the diverse needs of each employee. Take Profesiosnal Employee bargaining units, for example. These units may be comprised of teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses, and librarians (just to name a few job titles). It’s crazy to assume that one singular contract can meet the needs of all of these job titles, where the backgrounds and skills needed range from medical/RN/LPN, psychology, education, and library sciences.
And it isn’t good for recruiting teachers, either.
Collective bargaining means teachers of all subjects receive the same compensation. So, science and math teachers—positions that are usually difficult to fill—must receive the same salary and benefits package as English teachers—a much easier position to fill. The uniformity of collective bargaining makes it impossible for unionized schools to create unique hiring incentives for those roles. Students and teachers both suffer when a district has difficulty hiring.
Just like any process, collective bargaining has its limitations. Unionization is not a silver bullet for workplace issues no matter what NEA, SEIU, or any other union tells us.

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Isabel Blank

Isabel Blank is Communications Director at 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 2021, Isabel worked in media relations at Travelers Insurance and held government affairs and communications roles with Yankee Institute. She has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish, both from the University of Connecticut (Go Huskies!). Isabel loves Crossfit and supporting her local Connecticut breweries.