Where Do the Numbers Come from for Public Union Negotiations?


Don’t get too caught up in the conflicting claims about negotiations over the Warwick teacher union negotiations.  Even if it’s completely true that the union countered a relatively reasonable offer from the school department with an outlandish joke, that fact is most significant because of its illustration of the fact that they’re really just throwing darts at a board:

On April 20, members of the union and the School Department met with mediator Vincent F. Ragosta Jr. Thornton says that the School Department offered a 2-percent raise every year for the next three years. The union disputes that, stating that the initial offer was no raise for the first year, and 2 percent raises in each of the next two years.

Thornton stated that the union countered with a demand for a 10-percent raise each year for three years. He added that the request would result in most teacher salaries reaching $100,000 by 2018.

Three sequential 10% raises is obviously outrageous, but what makes three 2% raises not outrageous, except for the fact that the union wants even more?  What are these numbers based on?

Is Warwick’s enrollment growing?  No.  According to the state’s data, Warwick’s enrollment has fallen every year since the turn of the millennium, with an average annual drop of 2%, with 3,125 fewer students starting the 2015-2016 school year as started the 2000-2001 school year in the district; that’s a 34% drop.

Are the residents of Warwick substantially wealthier, such that they can pay for increases in the school budget despite decreases in students?  Not really.  Sure, according to the U.S. Census, median household income increased from the $46,483 in the 2000 Census to $62,803 for 2014 (a 2% annual average increase), but employment fell from 63.6% to 62.1%, and individuals living in poverty increased from 5.9% to 7.3%.

Are Warwick residents gaining wealth on their homes?  No.  From 2010 to 2014, according to the Census, the median home value fell from $234,300 to $198,200 (-15%).

Are the schools preforming at very high levels? It wouldn’t seem so, considering that not a single one is recognized as “commended” by the state.

So, again:  By what criteria can a smaller population with many fewer children, more poverty, and falling home values afford any increases in teacher pay at all?  If a business or other private organization were contemplating raises (especially contracted out for three years), it would have to base them on experienced and expected sales or other revenue, as well as productivity and the ability of the employer to replace employees who feel they deserve more money than the employer is willing to pay.

In the public sector, by contrast, we see the very different dynamic that one might expect when the negotiation is a bit more like: “How much can you and I take from that guy over there?”

  • Max

    I’ll never understand why municipalities start at anything more than 0 percent for one year. I understand they don’t want to come back to the table every year but neither does the union. If they start at 2 percent every 3 years, you’re automatically conceding more.