“Collective bargaining” has a big, scary reputation, but peel away the myths and it’s pretty simple:

It’s the practice of having employees and management work together to come up with the rules they’ll both follow in the workplace.

Collective bargaining used to be much more commonplace in the private sector than it is now, but many public sector workers still use it. Despite what some talk show hosts may tell you, having public employees who can bargain collectively benefits you more than you might think.

The basics

In collective bargaining, workers with similar jobs can band together in a group called a bargaining unit. Those workers will typically choose members from their own ranks to meet with members of management in negotiating sessions. Negotiators from both sides will discuss all kinds of things—pay, working conditions, performance standards, discipline procedures, and more.

When they reach agreement about workplace rules for the subjects they want to cover, they’ll put the rules into a document called a collective bargaining agreement (also referred to as a contract). Both sides have to approve the agreement before it takes on the legal force of a binding contract.

Why letting our members bargain collectively is good for you

  • States with public sector collective bargaining have smaller deficits than states without. States whose public employees are part of collective bargaining agreements report budget deficits around 10%. Compare that to states where public employees aren’t part of collective bargaining agreements—many of those states run budget deficits over 25%. (Click here to learn more.)
  • It’s a good investment in keeping long-term employees who know their jobs and care about quality public service. From the subway driver who takes you to work, to the teacher educating your children, to the engineer who keeps our roads and bridges safe, public employees spend everyday working for you. If you ask them about what they do, you’ll find how proud they are of their work. When these employees have a real say in their workplaces, their experiences can help us improve public services. When you have a say in what you do, and it’s successful, aren’t you more invested in staying and continuing the success? Public sector employees feel the same way.
  • The security of a collective bargaining agreement helps offset the lower pay rate. Public sector employees pay a price for their public service—literally.  Many public sector employees earn less then their private sector counterparts, averaging 7% less, even with benefits included. For public employees with professional degrees, like engineers, this pay difference is bigger, at 13%. Having the security of a collective bargaining agreement, with rules and wages spelled out and agreed upon, gives public sector employees an added incentive to accept a lower rate of pay. (Click here to learn more.)