The New Orleans City Council may soon consider an ordinance intended to recognize city workers’ right to collectively bargain. The proposed ordinance would establish city workers’ organizing rights, set up a process for collective bargaining, and require the council to hire a labor relations administrator as a go-between for workers and the city. Proponents of the ordinance believe that this step is necessary to improve morale, help with recruiting, and maintain city services. However, there are countless examples from other cities that illustrate how public sector unions do the opposite.

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) are typically negotiated in secret and remain in effect for years at a time. They generally govern pay, working conditions, and establish a reduction in force protocol that typically retains workers based on seniority rather than merit.

In his recent book, NOT Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Sector Unions, Philip K. Howard makes the case that public sector collective bargaining harms taxpayers because public sector unions by their nature require elected officials to cede their authority to make policy decisions to the union. In the event of a budget crisis, natural disaster, or pandemic, lawmakers’ hands are tied by the terms of the CBA. Elected officials, who serve the public at large and not just union members, often can’t make prudent decisions regarding pay or layoffs because they are bound by the CBA. If there’s a dispute, CBAs often require it to be resolved by an unelected arbitrator, rather than a politically accountable judge. Howard also adds that unions aggressively campaign to have their members elected to office so that they are represented on both sides of the bargaining table.

Gains for union members often come at the expense of residents’ quality of life. In Philadelphia, Glitter, a company started by entrepreneurs to deal with the city’s street litter problem, was forced to cease operations after the city’s sanitation workers union filed a grievance. The city’s Streets Department partnered with Glitter to collect street litter, sweep, report illegal dumping, and bag trash for collection.  Glitter provided its services for a small monthly fee to neighborhoods plagued by litter that accumulated in the streets after the city’s trash collection day.  The union alleges that the city is violating its union contract by allowing a for-profit business to charge for work performed by non-union employees. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that residents are literally left holding the bag—bags of garbage they collect themselves after losing Glitter’s services for their neighborhoods.

New Orleanians have plenty of legitimate gripes—from safety, to  police officer response time, to garbage collection, to water bills—but we have seen that time and again, unionization and collective bargaining for public employees can only make things worse for taxpayers.