NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Work?

September 1, 1998

Government workers' unions are a rising power in American politics. Workers for state, local and federal government now account for almost half of all union members. Thirty-seven percent of government workers belong to unions, compared to about 10 percent of private-sector workers.

The government workers' unions have reaped windfalls for their members because politicians often find it easier to give away tax dollars than to resist the demands of well organized interest groups. At the same time, the unions have often prevented the firing of goldbricks and incompetents, and have opposed changes to improve efficiency or productivity.

  • Harvard researcher Caroline Hoxby found that a reduction in the power of teachers' unions led to less spending per student but higher levels of student achievement.
  • The Michigan Education Association spent 13 years fighting the firing of a gym teacher for molesting female students; and after he murdered his wife and went to prison while the case was pending, the union got him an award of $200,000 in back pay.
  • Each postal worker costs almost $50,000 per year in pay and perks, leading former Postal Rate Commissioner John Crutcher to call postal workers "the highest-paid semi-skilled workers in the world."
  • An investigation of the New York City Police Department four years ago found that the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the police union, "often acts as a shelter for and protector of the corrupt cop."

The adverse effects of unionism are not limited to teachers, mailmen and police, but are also pervasive in the federal bureaucracy. One abuse, estimated to cost taxpayers more than $300 million a year, is a practice known as "official time" that allows employees to spend time on union work while on the job.

  • The Inspector General of the Social Security Administration found that 145 employees of the agency were working full-time for unions and another 1,600 were devoting up to 75 percent of their work time to union activities.
  • A trial lawyer in the Department of Housing and Urban Development notified her bosses that she would be spending 100 percent of her time on union "representational" business, then filed an unfair labor practice complaint when asked to move from her window-view office to the office the agency provided the union in the same building.

Government workers' unions spend large amounts of money to maintain and expand their influence. Of more than $20 million spent earlier this year to defeat California's Proposition 226 - which would have required unions to get workers' permission before spending their dues for political purposes - more than half came from government workers' unions.

Source: James Bovard, "Good Enough for Government Work?" The American Spectator, September 1998.


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