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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Zachary Dyba
November 20, 2015
The State of Illinois is quickly closing in on yet another month without having a budget in place. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is locked in a battle with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Much of the fighting revolves around Gov. Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” which was inspired in part by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s successful passage of Act 10.
Act 10 limited the collective bargaining powers of teachers in Wisconsin. The decision to avoid proposing changes to the collective bargaining rights of other unions in local government, and instead, focus only on teacher’s unions allowed Gov. Walker and his Republican allies to argue his actions were about education reform and not a direct attack on public sector unionization.
Gov. Rauner has stated his disapproval of public sector unions more directly, for example, referring to American Federation of State (AFSCME) as “Af-scammy.” Illinois Democrats have consistently pushed back against Gov. Rauner, using the common refrain that an attack on public-sector unions is an attack on the working class.
Politicking aside, having a discussion about unions that moves beyond any party’s talking points is worthwhile. Collective bargaining can significantly affect the operations of public sector institutions. In local government, in which I work, 41.9 percent of all employees are unionized according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While a sizable portion of those employees are teachers, many others work in fire, police and public works departments.
During my time as a graduate student, I spent a significant amount of time researching unions in local government for my master’s thesis. There are three major takeaways from my research:
The significance of these three points is clear: unions do significantly affect the finances, and subsequently, the operations of a local government. At issue for many city managers and other local government chief administrators is how to devise a strategy to handle collective bargaining for their organization.
In their famous book, What Do Unions Do?, Richard Freeman and James Medoff argue that unions can create a net benefit to an organization by professionalizing the workforce. The workers then can exercise their “collective voice” to communicate inefficiencies in operations. If management has a positive “institutional response” and cooperates with the union in good faith, then management can make necessary adjustments to improve productivity.
To put Freeman and Medoff’s ideas in simple terms, if both organizational leaders and unions are reasonable and make accommodations for others’ concerns, the organization can benefit in spite of higher costs. However, in places like Illinois and elsewhere, it has yet to be seen if reasonable people can prevail in policy matters related to collective bargaining.
Author: Zachary Dyba, MPA, is the assistant to the township manager of the Township of Brighton, Mich. Dyba is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.