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Public Sector Unionism

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Public Sector Unionism

As more and more workers and businesses have obtained refuge from compulsory unionism in right-to-work states in recent decades, the rationality of the free market has been showing itself. But the public sector is another and a grimmer story.

The National Labor Relations Act affects only private-sector workers. Since the 1960s, however, 21 states have enacted laws authorizing the collection of forced union dues from at least some state and local public employees. More than a dozen additional states have granted union officials the monopoly power to speak for all government workers whether they consent to this or not. Thus today, government workers are more than five times as likely to be unionized as private sector workers. This represents a great danger for taxpayers and consumers of government services. For as Victor Gotbaum, head of the Manhattan-based District 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said 36 years ago: “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”

How this works is simple, and explains the inordinate power of union officials in so many states that have not adopted right-to-work laws. Union officials funnel a huge portion of the compulsory dues and fees they collect into efforts to influence the outcomes of elections. In return, elected officials are afraid to anger them even in the face of financial crisis. This explains why states with the heaviest tax burdens and the greatest long-term fiscal imbalances (in many cases due to bloated public employee pension funds) are those with the most unionized government workforces. California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin represent the worst default risks among the 50 states. In 2010, an average of 59.2 percent of the public employees in these nine worst default-risk states were unionized, 19.2 percentage points higher than the national average of 40 percent. All of these states except Nevada authorize compulsory union dues and fees in the public sector.

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