As Good As It Gets? Hard Lessons from NYC Contracts

Source: Mark Brenner, Labor Notes, June 25, 2014

Train and bus operators with Transit Workers Local 100 did better than expected, but no union was able to escape the political box created by Democrats who refuse to tax the rich. New York City teachers and transit workers just ratified contracts that will define what’s possible for the 250,000 city workers still in negotiations. The deals show how little juice is left for public sector unions trying to deliver using traditional tools at the bargaining table or in the political arena. If these are the limits in a union stronghold like New York—where one in four workers is a union member and 70 percent of the public sector is organized—the news isn’t good for conventional strategies elsewhere. What can be done better? To avoid a collision course with taxpayers, public sector unions need to upend the bipartisan consensus and put raising taxes back on the table. To achieve that, they’ll have to make an aggressive case to voters that strong public services, and the workers who provide them, are worth it—and that corporations and the super-rich should pay the tab. They’ll also have to challenge politicians, especially Democrats, who’ve made their peace with austerity….