NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Sector Resisting Unionization

July 2, 1998

In a little noticed trend, the number and proportion of public-sector employees who are union members has been slipping in recent years. Some union organizers report resistance in public employee recruitment campaigns similar to what they have long encountered in the private sector.

Having seen steep declines over recent decades in the share of private-sector workers joining unions, labor bosses have been focusing on a strategy of making up the losses by organizing public employees. But that strategy seems to be failing.

  • The number of public-sector union members has declined from 7.1 million in 1994 to 6.7 million last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • As of 1997, some 37.2 percent of public-sector employees were union members -- down from 38.7 percent in 1994.
  • In the private sector, labor has seen its share of the worker force drop from 35 percent in the late 1950s to 9.8 percent last year.
  • About 42 percent of all union members are public employees.

Partly due to post-Cold War downsizing, the number of federal civilian employees shrank from about 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.7 million in 1997. Meanwhile, employment by state and local governments increased from 15.2 million in 1990 to 17 million last year.

Experts report that as many as one-third of state and local workers don't have collective bargaining rights -- particularly those in Southern and Rocky Mountain states. Unions reportedly win about 80 percent of organizing elections in the public sector, but only 50 percent among private companies.

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "Big Labor Faces New Challenge," Investor's Business Daily, July 2, 1998.


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