NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

State Needs More Flexibility to Deal with Unions

September 30, 2010

Powerful and inflexible public-sector unions are a common denominator of many states in bad fiscal shape -- such as Illinois (which has a $4.7 billion payment backlog) and California, say Kristina Rasmussen, the executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, and Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute.

  • In Illinois, 50 percent of state and local government employees are unionized.
  • Nationwide, 39 percent of state and local workers are members of unions.
  • Only 7 percent of workers are unionized in the private sector.

Before the 1960s, unions represented less than 15 percent of the state and local work force.

  • Today, 26 states have collective bargaining for essentially all state and local workers.
  • A further 12 states have OK'd bargaining for a portion of their work force.

Statistical analyses of union versus nonunion wages in the public sector typically find about a 10 percent union advantage.  Unions have also pushed for generous pension packages, with about $3 trillion in unfunded costs nationwide.

Government employees should be free to join worker associations, but they should not be given a special legal status and handed extra power to block the fiscal reforms states so desperately need, say Rasmussen and Edwards.

Source: Kristina Rasmussen and Chris Edwards, "State Needs More Flexibility to Deal with Unions," Cato Institute, September 24, 2010.

For text:


Browse more articles on Economic Issues