Public Sector Unions Research Paper

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In 1947 the Taft Hartley act was passed which removed many union gains from the Wagner act. It very explicitly denied public workers the right to strike, and required that workers who did strike would be dismissed (brown, 2010). This legislation was hard to overcome, but support began to grow for allowing public unions to form.

At this time, public sentiment began to change, leaning more toward unions, as public employees were demanding change. One challenge of the sixties was the battle for collective bargaining rights. The age of teacher militancy began in November 1960 with a one-day walkout of the united federation of teachers of New York City; two years later the UFT won the first comprehensive teacher contract in the country (Edwards, 2010). In 1962, president john f. Kennedy signed an executive order that allowed federal workers to unionize. As more public employees formed unions, union membership grew, and more states caved in to pressure from their employees to unionize. "The [Kennedy] order triggered collective-bargaining laws in states such as Michigan, new York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, all of which had substantial private-sector unionism. Only half-dozen states in the south and west are completely free of such laws promoting public-sector unionism" (Reynolds, 2009). States continued to add union laws for their public workers, and by the 1970s, public union membership was soaring. Reynolds (2009) states that "despite major regional variations, by the 1970s public workers were pulling themselves in line with their private-sector counterparts; in the early 1960s only 13% of government employees belonged to unions, but by 1990 over 35% did."Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Research Paper on Public Sector Unions Public-Sector Unions Assignment

Ironically, as the public sector unions grew and strengthened, the private sector unions began to give up large numbers of members. This trend continues up until today. With the enactment of the national labor relations act of 1935 unions represented over one-third of the workers of the private sector. Beginning in 1970, private sector unions began to lose power and strength which can be seen today, when less than 10% are unionized in the private sector (Adler, 2006). Throughout the 60s and 70s, politicians found that public-sector unions, through political campaigns and endorsements, had power. Thus, most politicians enacted legislation that would lead to public sector unionization in their districts. Public sector unions grew dramatically during this period, and membership soared (Edwards, 2010).

One of the things that anger many people about public sector unions today is that they promote higher wages for government workers. This has not always been the case. Between 1950 and about 1980, average compensation in the public and private sectors moved in lockstep. But, after 1980, public sector compensation growth began to outpace private sector compensation growth (Edwards, 2010). Between 1980 and 2000, public employees remained at an advantage, but in the current economic times, many unions have had to make concessions because of rapidly falling budgets, and many public sector employees are not making what they used to make even few years ago.

These unions gained political ground when New York mayor Robert Wagner junior presented, "the Wagner act." The act not only recognized the presence of labor unions but also accepted them as sole legal representatives of the employees. Hence, the bargaining rights pertaining to compensation and other working conditions rested with these unions. Since 1960s onwards these unions became very famous among the public employees and various unions were formed to represent teachers, foremen, clerks etc. which fulfilled their task and acquired exclusive high compensations and good pensions for their members. These high compensations turned out to be quite lucrative and the number of public employees increased drastically ignoring other areas of the economy (Belman, Heywood & Lund 1997).

As Daniel Disalvo notes, "in today's public sector, good pay, generous benefits, and job security make possible a stable middle-class existence for nearly everyone from janitors to jailors."

With the wave of recession, where a lot of public sectors were criticized for their unnecessary high costs, these public sector unions were not exempted. As a matter of fact, these unions faced a lot of heat due to conservative republican legislatures in 2012.


Public sectors unions have been heavily criticized by those who believe that excessive workforce in public sector are responsible for budget deficit in us and are also considered as a causative agent of state deficits.

Since in 1980s, public sector unions have borne more criticism than advocacy. They are considered as a considerably important political factor mainly due to support of their members and also because of collaboration with activist organizations that are representing issues like public healthcare, immigrants rights etc. Furthermore, public unions' demand of removing secret ballot system is also highly criticized for it will give rights to the unions to harass their members for gaining majority (Feeney, 2008).

One must not ignore the fact that the compensation provided to these public employees is paid out of taxes; therefore the burden of high public sector compensation is borne by the innocent public. This was the reason why when Chris Christie became New Jersey's governor in Jan 2010, he passed an order on restraining any political influence. The legislations which were imposed on the corporations were also levied on the unions as well. The reason was used 11 billion budget deficit and extremely high tax rates imposed on the public (Mcginnis & Schanzenbach 2010).

The initiative taken by New Jersey drew attention all over the states where same situation prevails in various big cities. Although these decision faced a lot of heat from the public unions and their political alliances but it was heavily appreciated by government policy makers. The cost of compensation provided to public workers (which in many cases is way above the pay scale of private employees), coupled with the lucrative pensions provided to the retired government labor, is considered as the main cause of deficits in federal and state budgets. On the other hand, this cost is going to increase exponentially in coming years as the number of retired workers is going to increase enormously as America is aging day by day. If the policy makers fail to balance this burden, an economic crackdown will be inevitable then (Hoffman, 1999).

After the decision made by new jersey government, a lot of states including New York, Michigan, California, Washington and others, are considering of taki9ng on the similar measures and formulating policies which may combat the strength borne by these labor unions representing government employees, so that their debts should be minimized. Where public sector unions succeed to get their favorite compensation package, the citizens of these states get the ineffective yet highly expensive government officials sitting in higher government offices, supported by these powerful trade unions. As the wall street journal put it recently, public-sector unions "may be the single biggest problem...for the U.S. economy and small-d democratic governance." they may also be the biggest challenge facing state and local officials -- a challenge that, unless economic conditions dramatically improve, will dominate the politics of the decade to come (Feeney, 2008).


With the passage of time, labor unions have lost their credibility as the saviors of the government employees. However, they have caused enough damage which is going to have a snowball effect in coming years. Since 1950s onwards, the labor of America has undergone two drastic changes which itself had major impacts on national politics. Firstly, the membership of these unions dropped drastically and secondly the composition of the workforce in public and private sector (those who were the members of unions), also showed a different pattern.

As the time passed, public sector unions grew stronger than the private sector and have gained more power to influence government decisions in the favor of their members. As per the statistics of the bureau of labor statistics reports that, in 2009, for the first time ever, more public-sector employees (7.9 million) than private-sector employees (7.4 million) belonged to unions. Today, unionized workers are more likely to be teachers, librarians, trash collectors, policemen, or firefighters than they are to be carpenters, electricians, plumbers, auto workers, or coal miners.

Thus, the whole demography of the American workforce changed which is going to have serious implications in coming years. Now today's union man is more educated and well-settled in American society than he used to be in 1900s. A lot of educated workforce is preferring government job than the jobs suiting their profile in private sector. This is the reason why private sector is finding it hard to find suitable talent for their organizations (Mosca & Pressman, 1995).

This hike in unionism in public sector is directly related to the broader change in American economy as this pattern of behavior in American workforce will result in a change in employment demographics. Where public jobs offer financial security and stable jobs, private sector is subjected to tough competition, market fluctuations, income… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Public Sector Unions" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Public Sector Unions.  (2012, May 13).  Retrieved January 24, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Public Sector Unions."  13 May 2012.  Web.  24 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Public Sector Unions."  May 13, 2012.  Accessed January 24, 2021.