More than half (56 percent) of the voters in our poll say that unions provide workers with a living wage and other benefits. The poll, which is still underway, has collected responses from 360 voters so far.  Almost half of the poll responses (47 percent) tell American City & County (AC&C) that governments with unionized workforces have less turnover and steady job performance. Go to this site to cast your ballot.

Unions remain important to the government workforce because they serve as the workers' voice in the workplace, says Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at the Graduate School of Management, Clark University  (Worcester Mass.). “They enable workers to express their concerns about issues of wage parity with private sector workers and job security in an age of privatization,” Chaison tells AC&C. He adds that through unions, government workers can participate in the decisions that affect them.

Chaison says one way to appreciate the important of unions to government workers is to imagine what work would be like if there were no unions. “Management decisions might often be arbitrary and final, there would be no way to appeal decisions about discipline, promotions, transfers, and so on. Wages would fall so low that governments could no longer attract and retain a workforce," says Chaison. He adds that taxpayer restlessness would immediately transfer into public worker job losses.

Soon, adds Chaison, the situation would turn into a crisis for governments. “Unionism,” he adds, “lets the workers’ voice be heard and the workers’ priorities be considered in workplace decision-making.”

Chaison says he expects to see no major breakthroughs in public sector unionism in 2016. In fact, he sees a year of entrenchment. “This will be a year of defense—protecting past gains in wages and pensions, negotiating against cuts in jobs, particularly in cities where there is pressure for cost reduction, and trying to protect pensions from being reduced and turned into defined-benefit pensions, despite the fact that they are often underfunded.”

He believes that in 2016, public sector union members will ask that their representatives protect past collective bargaining gains, not necessarily negotiate for new ones.

One of the commenters to the AC&C poll, screen name IMBERMAN, says union-negotiated wages and benefits are crowding out other government expenses, including spending on first responder services, infrastructure investments, and recreational facilities.

IMBERMAN adds that private-sector workers are seeing their retirement and other benefits cut. He predicts that those workers' reactions will become more negative as they see public sector staffers enjoy fatter paychecks and expanded benefits packages.


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