Post-Contract Expectations Make All the Difference
Megan McArdle highlights an important distinction between union and individual employment contracts:
Obviously, people who are not in unions write employment contracts, which are similarly hard to write. But non-union employment contracts operate in an environment where both sides often hope to continue the relationship beyond the initial term. This offers quite a bit of good-faith flexibility, because people who are too rigid about the exact letter of their contracts are apt to find that their contract isn’t renewed. Even in contracts with a very definite term, there are reputational considerations. That’s just not how unions operate, because the union can’t be fired by the employer. When the contract expires, you’re going to negotiate another contract. The result is that people in non-union employment contracts can tolerate quite a bit more ambiguity on both sides than people in a collective bargaining situation.
That’s the dynamic that the school committees and town councils of Rhode Island must address. If intransigence from the unions may result in reconfigured hiring policies or a more stringent baseline for the next contract, they’ll be more apt to be reasonable — and their members will be less inclined to such practices as work-to-rule.