The simple fact of the matter is that by failing to run an effective public campaign, public agencies are foregoing the most powerful tool their have to win at the bargaining table—turning the tide of public opinion in their favor.
Perhaps the greatest strength of public employee unions is their ability to effectively run public contract campaigns, which commonly involves organizing their members, organizing public actions, crafting public messages and communicating with the media and public.
Public opinion is one of the most important considerations, if not the most important consideration of public officials charged with approving the final contact award negotiated at the bargaining table.
If a public agencies fail to win the hearts and minds of the public and taxpayers toward their position, they have likely already lost at the bargaining table and are failing to build a foundation for long-term success in public employee contract negotiations.
The truth is that success at the bargaining table is built on winning in the public’s eye. Polling shows that the public and taxpayers are fed up with pension abuse and what they see to be exorbitant pay and benefits granted to public sector employees. Many voters are furious at public agencies for being cut out of the process for so long.
Running an effective public contract campaign serves several beneficial purposes.
First, failure to do so can be fatal, and sets up a situation where the public agency has no chance of winning at the bargaining table even if their case is justified on policy and financial grounds. It is not uncommon for a public agency to try to establish a public campaign long after negotiations have begun, and fail miserably.
Second, public campaigns can help tap public outrage at what they see to be unfair and costly pay raises and benefit increases granted to public employees, at the expense of other important government programs and services.
Third, if the unions are strongest through the use of their public campaigns. Public agencies need to match this intensity and sophistication in public campaigns.
Fourth, establishing and running an effective public contract campaign has significant long-term benefits. Communicating with the media and public can serve to lay the groundwork for long-term success in future contract campaigns; long after the contract has already closed. Failing to do so, foregoes these benefits.
Fifth, establishing an effective contract campaign can help improve the public’s perception of the public agency and its governing officials.
Sixth, running a public campaign can only serve to help a public agency’s efforts at the bargaining table. There really are no downsides, apart from the need to dedicate some amount of resources and staff time to establishing and running a campaign.
It is likely that most public agencies have not chosen to establish and run a public campaign because they lack the expertise and knowledge about how to run an effective campaign.
The Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy specializes in helping public agencies establish and run effective public contract campaigns to support collective bargaining negotiations. There are a variety of options available from a basic public communication package to a full public contract campaign. For more information, please visit: www.kersteninstitute.org or email email@example.com to request a free consultation today.
David Kersten is an independent public policy and communications specialist who has been closely involved in labor policy and negotiations for nearly a decade.