It Just Wouldn’t be Fair

Is the new collective bargaining law fair to public employees? Was the old law fair to the rest of us?

One rough-and-ready concept of fairness says that once you have something, it shouldn’t be taken away. In this view, the new law is unfair simply because it is less favorable to public employees than the old one. It’s human nature to think that way, but it’s also dangerous: Even if a policy was a terrible mistake, fixing it would be unfair to someone.

You could look at money. During the  2017-2018 school year, for example, the average regular salary for full-time teachers was $55,050.* You’d need to decide what to compare that to, and you’d need to adjust for the fact that that’s a school-year salary, not a twelve-month salary. And, since salary’s not all that matters, you’d need to take into account the fact that teachers have unusually good pensions and job security. The answer wouldn’t be that clear-cut.

There’s something else we can look at, however. Unionized public employees, when they negotiate, have two important advantages compared to most private sector employees.

First, they have unions. In the private sector (nationally), fewer than 10% of employees are represented by unions.

Second, at the local level, they’re negotiating with school board members, mayors, city council members – elected officials. Officials they can support or oppose with votes and campaign contributions. To a degree, in the words of an old saying, public employees “elect the people they negotiate with.”

In other words, almost none of us (the general public, that is) have those advantages, but the people who work for us do. Does that seem fair?

Just One More Thing

There are two parts of the law I would not have supported: the provisions on recertification of unions, and the rule that salary increases awarded in arbitration cannot exceed 2%. I’m a moderate, after all.

* Yes, the state reports a lot of different averages for different categories of teacher. This is the regular salary (not including payments for extra assignments) for full-time teachers who are not teacher leaders.